Seventy women in the hamlet of Dadara in Assam’s Brahmaputra valley region have banded together to to save the Greater Adjutant Stork, locally called hargilla, an endangered species of bird whose population is falling rapidly.
The Brahmaputra valley is the perfect nesting hub for these birds because of its food-rich wetlands and tall trees. However, according to an International Union for Conservation of Nature survey, only about 800-1,200 of these birds remain in India and Cambodia combined.
Assam’s Dadara and Pacharia villages are home to nearly 50 per cent of the Greater Adjutant Stork population. A wildlife conservation organisation called Aaranyak, noticing a rapid reduction in this population some years ago, launched a campaign to save them.
Hargillas tend to breed in privately-owned nesting trees, and feed on carcasses and live animals. The rubbish that is left after they feed make many people cut down these trees to keep their premises clean.
Aaranyak created conservation teams in these two villages, which made such a remarkable change in the mindset of the villagers that according to Purnima Devi Barnam, the organisation’s wildlife biologist, more than 550 birds live in these areas now – more than any recorded figure in India or Cambodia.
Barnam educated the women of these villages to understand that hargillas help the environment by scavenging and disposing of dead animals. She used Hindu mythology to spread her message of conservation, telling people that the hargilla was Lord Vishnu’s mount. Not only did people stop cutting down the birds’ nesting trees, the women even formed a Hargilla Army dedicated to their well being.
The Hargilla Army are not vigilantes. They are backed not only by Aaranyak, but also the local administration, and the police.
Members of the Hargilla Army go to schools, spreading stories about these big birds to create both awareness and involvement from among the students.
Feature image credit: hindubusinessline.com