Champions of the Earth

Article: “Purnima Devi Barman among five chosen for UN’s highest environmental honour” (Page 1)

About Champions of the Earth:

  • Since its inception in 2005, the annual Champions of the Earth award has been awarded by UNEP to trailblazers at the forefront of efforts to protect our natural world.
  • It is the UN’s highest environmental honour.
  • The UNEP Champions of the Earth awardees this year include – besides Barman – Arcenciel of Lebanon, a leading environmental enterprise in the Inspiration and Action category; Constantino (Tino) Aucca Chutas of Peru, also in the Inspiration and Action category; economist Partha Dasgupta of the United Kingdom in the Science and Innovation category; and Cecile Bibiane Ndjebet of Cameroon in the Inspiration and Action category
  • Purnima Devi Barman (India), honoured in the Entrepreneurial Vision category, is a wildlife biologist who leads the ‘Hargila Army’, an all-female grassroots conservation movement dedicated to protecting the Greater Adjutant Stork from extinction.
  • The women create and sell textiles with motifs of the bird, helping to raise awareness about the species while building their financial independence

About Greater Adjutant Stork

  • The greater adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius) is a member of the stork family, Ciconiidae.
  • Its genus includes the lesser adjutant of Asia and the marabou stork of Africa.
  • Once found widely across southern Asia and mainland southeast Asia, the greater adjutant is now restricted to a much smaller range with only three breeding populations; two in India, with the largest colony in Assam, a smaller one around Bhagalpur; and another breeding population in Cambodia.
  • They disperse widely after the breeding season.
  • Known locally as hargila (derived from the Assamese words "har" means bone and "gila" means swallower, thus "bone-swallower") and considered to be unclean birds, they were largely left undisturbed but sometimes hunted for the use of their meat in folk medicine
  • The greater adjutant is omnivorous and although mainly a scavenger, it preys on frogs and large insects and will also take birds, reptiles and rodents.
  • It has been known to attack wild ducks within reach and swallowing them whole.
  • Greater adjutants also capture many fish, with 36 fish prey species documented in Assam, and many fish taken were large, weighing about 2 to 3 kg (4.4 to 6.6 lb).
  • Their main diet however is carrion, and like the vultures their bare head and neck is an adaptation.
  • They are often found on garbage dumps and will feed on animal and human excreta.
  • In 19th-century Calcutta, they fed on partly burnt human corpses disposed along the Ganges river.
  • Loss of nesting and feeding habitat through the draining of wetlands, pollution and other disturbances, together with hunting and egg collection in the past has caused a massive decline in the population of this species.
  • The world population was estimated at less than 1,000 individuals in 2008. The greater adjutant is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species