Purnima Devi Barman has been struggling for fifteen years to meet the inhabitants of the villages to defend this unloved bird and hunted to the point of having seen its population drop to near extinction.

Argala marabouts on the UN Environment Program Instagram account. (SCREENSHOT)

She’s been stalking a bird for years. And here it is. This bird is the argala marabou, a wading bird from the stork family hunted to near extinction because it is hated in India, a symbol despite itself of dirt and misfortune. It is this prejudice, this received idea about this animal that Purnima Devi Barman has been fighting for 15 years, a fight for which she has just obtained the title of 2022 UN Champion of the Earth. A fight that was far from won in advance. To understand, you have to imagine a stork, therefore, with an imposing look, a little prehistoric, a bird known in India to search the dumps, which earned him the nickname “bone swallower” and the reputation of spreading diseases.

Ominous bird

Result: the argala marabouts are hunted and killed with such frequency that today there are only 1,200 individuals left, in other words 99% less than the population recorded a century ago. A decline that Purnima Devi Barman has decided to stop. Biologist by training, she has been passionate about birds since she was a child, since her grandmother taught her to observe them, recognize their songs, their habits, but these storks lived in the marshes, the groves which in recent years decades have been drained to serve as a crop.

Deprived of its habitat, the bird therefore turned to landfills. And it is this truth that Purnima Devi Barman has decided to transmit, passing from village to village. Over the years, his speech has convinced. It has set up small groups of lookouts, mostly women, who have decided to get involved in protecting the nests, preventing the peasants from cutting down the trees where they are, and above all explaining, communicating, letting people hear the real story. of this misunderstood bird.

In the region of Assam in northern India, the battle has borne fruit: in ten years, we have gone from 28 recorded nests to 250. A feat achieved thanks to education, dialogue, and it is also what the UN rewards by awarding Purnima Devi Barman the title of champion of the earth, it is this pleasing proof that she brings that we can fight the most entrenched prejudices just by sharing knowledge.