Purnima Devi Barman, three-time recipient of a Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) award and the driving force behind the 200-strong all-female ‘hargila army’ that has devoted almost a decade to protecting an endangered giant stork from extinction, has been awarded the Nari Shakti Purashkar, India’s highest civilian honour for women. Presented by the president of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, the award recognises Purnima’s outstanding contribution to wildlife conservation in her country.

The greater adjutant stork, known locally as hargila, has an estimated global population of around 1,000 birds, over half of which are confined to the Indian district of Kamrup. The co-operation of local communities is crucial to the long-term survival of this species, which has a habit of nesting in the crown of tall kadam trees, many of which grow in people’s gardens.

Greater adjutant stork and nestlings. Credit: Purnima Devi Barman

Thanks to the efforts of Purnima and her CLP-funded conservation team, villagers have been persuaded to take this visually unprepossessing stork to their hearts and are beginning to appreciate how privileged they are to have such a rare and iconic species literally in their own backyards. Since the project was launched in 2009, with help from the first of three CLP awards, the Kamrup stork population has grown appreciably.

Purnima dedicated her prestigious award to all the women who are working with her to conserve the greater adjutant: “This award is the best acknowledgment for the communities engaged in hargila conservation.” As part of the ongoing campaign to raise awareness and generate income in support of greater adjutant conservation, Purnima’s willing band of volunteers embroiders stork motifs onto a range of traditional Assamese linen products. She is intending to use her prize money to help purchase more of these raw materials in preparation for a forthcoming festival.

As Purnima herself is quick to point out, this a great example of how CLP nurtures conservationists during the early stages of their career to the point where their work is achieving real impact on the ground and recognition at national level.

Purnima receives her award from Shri Ram Nath Kovind, president of India

Purnima receives her award from Shri Ram Nath Kovind, president of India

About the Conservation Leadership Programme

The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) is a partnership comprising Fauna & Flora International (FFI), BirdLife International and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

CLP provides a range of early-career support to potential conservation leaders from developing countries, providing them with the skills and knowledge needed to address today’s most pressing conservation challenges.