India’s greater adjutant storks – or hargila in the local language – have long been despised and seen as dirty pests. But these once common birds are endangered by habitat loss, due to landowners felling nesting trees to remove the storks, and wetland destruction. Purnima Barman, of NGO Aarnyak has launched a project to teach villagers to appreciate the birds and provide them with alternative livelihoods.
Barman has mobilised an all-female team of conservationists, known as the ‘Hargilla Army’, dedicated to protecting the greater adjutant, at the same time providing a sustainable livelihood, training and education opportunities for the women. The women pray, sing hymns, weave scarves and other items with the motifs of the bird, to create awareness about the need to protect the species, only 1,200 of which survive in the world.
Nearly two decades ago, Sanjay Gubbi quit his job as an electrical engineer to follow his passion for working with wildlife. Today, he is leading conservation efforts in Karnataka, southern India, home to the highest number of Bengal tigers in the country. He has secured the largest expansion of protected areas in India since 1970 – protected areas in Karnataka have increased by 37% also enhancing connectivity across 23 sites.
With his Whitley Award, Gubbi will be working to reduce deforestation in two important wildlife sanctuaries to create corridors for tigers to move between territories. He will also work with over 1,000 families to provide fuel efficient stoves, reducing the need for firewood collection – protecting them from respiratory diseases caused by smoke inhalation as well as the habitat of the tigers.
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