Winner avatar
2017 Whitley Award
Purnima Barman India Terrestrial, Wetland, Wetland and Freshwater
Inspiring women to protect Assam’s greater adjutant and its habitat

Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation in memory of Trevor Shears

noisy neighbours

Greater Adjutant Storks, or Hargila as they are known locally, have an image problem. These giant scavenger birds have a reputation as unwelcome neighbours with their noisy, messy and smelly nesting habits. With a global population of 1,200 mature individuals, 75% of which are found in Assam, the greater adjutant needs help to prevent degradation of their wetland habitat and the felling of nesting trees by landowners wishing to rid themselves of storks.


The species nest in the same colonies year on year, but villagers’ propensity to cut nesting trees has decimated numbers. To restore populations, Purnima Barman of the NGO Aaranyak, is rallying the people of Assam’s Brahmaputra valley, turning bird haters into bird lovers. Working with landowners and a grassroots women’s group known as the ‘Hargila Army’, Purnima is changing perceptions and the number of nests has risen from just 30 in 2008 to over 150 today.


Purnima’s next step is to scale up this success to four new districts in Assam and secure important wetland habitat. She plans to conduct research into the impact of wetland pollution and garbage consumption on stork health and reproduction. Alongside these studies, Purnima will help women to access training and develop textile businesses, and enthuse school children to instill a sense of commitment to these unusual birds.



With her award Purnima will:

  • Work with 10,000 villagers, schools and government to increase the greater adjutant population; protect nesting sites and rescue fallen chicks
  • Expand the Hargila Army, engaging 300 women with conservation and helping them to pursue sustainable livelihood and education opportunities
  • Seek legal protection of wetland habitat home to the largest nesting colony of greater adjutants
  • Use research findings to make recommendations for more environmentally-friendly waste disposal

Why it matters:

  • Over 50 wetlands occur in the project site acting as a life-support system for other species
  • Storks receive relatively little conservation attention
  • Purnima is improving the livelihoods of 1,000 people and is giving marginalised women a voice

“The Hargila Army women are the conservation heroes of today!”