New Zealand Lends Support To Hargilla Conservation In Assam

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New Zealand Lends Support To Hargilla Conservation In Assam

Saumya Mishra | August 03, 2019 15:55 hrs

GUWAHATI: The New Zealand High Commission has joined the conservation efforts to save the endangered Greater Adjutant Stork in Assam. The High Commission has extended its support in protecting the bird in Assam’s Kamrup (Rural) district. 
   
The Greater Adjutant Stork is a member of the stork family. It is a large scavenger bird which can measure close to 5 feet in height and has a wingspan of eight feet. The bird is commonly known as “Hargilla” in Assam. 
 
However, with a lack of space for their nests, the bird is critically endangered with only around 850 birds left in Assam. The state is also home to more than 75 per cent of the global Greater Adjutant Stork population. Further, merely 1,200 odd birds survive in the world. 

Purnima Devi Barman, the founder of “Hargilla Army” and a wildlife crusader in Assam told G Plus that she recently met the New Zealand High Commissioner, Joanna Kempkers, at an event in New Delhi where she expressed her desire to extend her support. 

“She was already familiar with our work and said that she was very fascinated and wanted to support us as our work is not only related to wildlife conservation but also to women empowerment and social change,” said Barman adding that the High Commissioner decided to provide 80 sewing machines for the women of Hargilla Army. 

This had a major impact and aided to boost their enthusiasm, mentioned Barman. These women also received training and awareness programmes under the High Commission.

"The New Zealand High Commission is happy to support the project through our Head of Mission Fund. I commend Dr Purnima Barman for the way she has integrated the conservation of the endangered Hargilla with the empowerment of local women by offering them a means of livelihood. This month, we will continue our support by providing 200 women with 80 sewing machines. I understand from Purnima that weaving the stork motif on saris, skirts, gamochas and other items has helped establish a connect with the birds that has boosted conservation efforts,” said the New Zealand High Commissioner, Joanna Kempkers in a statement.   


All-women group on a mission to save the stork

Barman has been associated with Hargilla conservation for the past 11 years. She founded an all-women group called “Hargilla army” to preserve the natural habitat of the bird in Kamrup (Rural) district’s Dadara Pachariya village.

Interestingly, this village is also a prominent breeding colony in the world for the Greater Adjutant Stork.
  
What was started as small women’s self-help group to create awareness about the bird, today has 400 members with 200 active members who help conserve the bird in their community by sensitising people about the stork. 
    
“We tell people that they are the stakeholders of the bird, as the trees on which the storks make their nests are on their own property. We motivate them to become protectors of the trees as well as the birds and to sensitise others,” Devi told G Plus adding that they stress on community members to develop a feeling of ownership for the bird.   

The women conservationists of the Hargilla army also conduct street plays and campaigns to protect the bird. Through them, the Greater Adjutant Stork has now been integrated into the tradition of the village folk.  
  
This women’s group also doubles up as a means of self-reliance for these women with livelihood support as they weave the motif of the bird on dresses, gamocha, mekhela chador, scarves and sell them.   

Earlier, the bird was treated as a bad omen by the village residents who used to cut down the trees on which the Greater Adjutant Storks made their nests. But now with a transformation in their perspective, the bird has been merged to become a part of their traditions and has been introduced into their prayer songs, into their dresses and culture by the Hargilla army.
  
Barman informed that these women also keep monitoring the birds and their nests and are also involved in counting of the bird population. They also inform the authorities immediately in case of any bird fall.
 
Further, during the time of Diwali festival, the Hargilla army members take special measures to keep vigilance and protect the birds from burning of crackers. 

Barman said that by their support the New Zealand High Commissioner has been instrumental in motivating the members of those involved in Hargilla conservation. 

“The New Zealand High Commissioner has shown faith in us and the financial support through sewing machines was extremely helpful. She is also spreading the word about our work,” mentioned Barman.

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