Purnima Devi Barman

Purnima Devi Barman Honoured with 2024 Whitley Gold Award for Courageous Efforts to Save Greater Adjutant Storks

UK charity, the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), has recognised Dr Purnima Devi Barman from India with the prestigious 2024 Whitley Gold Award for her extraordinary work to rescue the Greater Adjutant Stork, affectionately known as Hargila. Under her dynamic leadership, the stork population in Assam has quadrupled to over 1,800, thanks to an innovative campaign spearheaded by Purnima that now engages over 20,000 women across multiple regions.

Purnima Devi Barman: “Dreams are the seeds of tomorrow’s reality”.

Presenting the Whitley Gold Award, the top honour, was Charity Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, in a poignant ceremony held at the Royal Geographical Society on 1st May. The occasion marked three decades since the inception of the Whitley Award and 25 years of HRH The Princess’ dedicated patronage.

Purnima founded the Hargila Army, becoming a beacon of hope for Assam’s endangered storks. Recognising the imminent threat faced by the majestic Hargila stork, she embarked on a mission to transform perceptions and safeguard their dwindling numbers.

The stork plays a crucial role in Assam’s wetlands, constituting over 15 percent of the state’s landmass. Unfortunately, wetlands are experiencing unprecedented degradation, disappearing at a rate three times faster than forests globally, as reported by the United Nations. These habitats serve as essential refuges for migratory birds and diverse wildlife species while also providing vital protection against the escalating threats of heavy monsoon flooding, especially in the face of unpredictable weather patterns due to climate change.

Stork Sisters

Utilising an innovative approach, Purnima rallied rural women, fondly known as the “stork sisters,” to champion the cause of Hargila conservation. Together, they not only protected nesting sites but also rehabilitated the stork’s image from a cultural taboo to a cherished emblem of local pride. Today, Purnima’s army of stork sisters spans 10,000 strong, transcending borders to encompass Bihar and Cambodia.

In the wake of her relentless advocacy, Purnima’s initiatives have yielded remarkable results, with nest numbers soaring from 27 to 250 in just over a decade. The project has safeguarded over 500 stork chicks, planted 45,000 saplings, and raised awareness through innovative campaigns, including baby showers and village-to-village visits.

With the Whitley Gold Award as her beacon, Purnima is poised to amplify her impact further, aiming to double the global stork population to 5,000 by 2030. Her ambitious agenda includes expanding conservation efforts, empowering women, and fostering collaborative networks to drive transformative change in biodiversity conservation.

Sir David Attenborough, an Ambassador for WFN and a steadfast advocate for conservation, emphasized that the expanding cohort of recipients embodies some of the globe’s most esteemed conservationists. He remarked, “Whitley Award winners combine knowing how to respond to crises yet also bring communities and wider audiences with them.”


Purnima’s involvement in the Rewilding Academy is instrumental in driving forward its mission of fostering ecological restoration and biodiversity conservation. With her extensive experience in community-driven conservation initiatives and her pioneering efforts in species recovery programs, she brings invaluable insights and expertise to the Academy’s educational programs.

As a champion of women’s empowerment and community engagement, Purnima plays a pivotal role in developing curriculum modules that emphasise the importance of local participation and sustainable development practices. Through her leadership and dedication, she inspires and empowers future conservation leaders to adopt innovative approaches in rewilding and ecosystem restoration, ensuring a brighter future for both people and wildlife.

Hargila with chicks (Image: Bibekanda Kakati, via Whitley Fund for Nature)

Similar Posts