Everyone reading my blog knows that I believe wholeheartedly that individuals can make a huge difference to our planet and to the lives of our beloved birds. You do not have to be a movie star or a business tycoon with lots of money, you just need to find ‘something’ that you feel is really important. Your belief, your dedication, and your enthusiasm will influence others if your cause is sound.
The Hargila have the most magnificent, yet piercing blue eyes.
I have previously reported on the work of Dr Purnina Devi Barman of Assam, India. Dr Barman was determined to make the Adjutant Storks, known as Hargilas in Assam, important — important enough that people would stop cutting down trees, building structures on the few remaining wetlands, to help with the chicks or the adults if they were injured. She wanted to engrain the importance of these critically endangered birds whose population (50%) lives in Dadara, Assam to the people of that village. She has spent a decade fighting for the Hargila raising the numbers of nests from 28 to over 200 today.
Dr Barman was smart. After finding out what was causing a loss of population, she took that knowledge and approached the women and the children to protect these amazing birds that live in the forest canopy. She set up the Hargila Women’s Army. Her story and the plight of these amazing storks was recently captured and told by the Cornell Bird Lab in a 28 minute documentary. I have now watched it twice. It is so well done. Please do have a look and as you are watching realize that every little thing we can do to help our birds also helps us!
It is a beautiful inspiring film.
I just had to share this with you. I spent many years in India, some years more there than home. I know how difficult it is to get things done there. These women are very courageous. This is a really good documentary —–it is so well done. Thank you Cornell! I would Cornell takes those beautiful images and make it into a book on these General Adjutant Storks. Part of the proceeds could go to the Hargila Army!
Thank you for joining me! Ervie just got a fish delivery so I am happy. Take care everyone. See you soon!
If you are looking to purchase some of the items the ladies in Assam make to raise money for the education and protection of the storks, please go toPashoo Pakshee. Their prices are in Indian rupees. The current rate is 1.70 CDN for 100 rupees.
In the latest edition of BirdLife Magazine out of Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab, there is a compelling article on the race in Africa to save the African Vulture. It was very moving to read it so soon after discovering the women of the Hargila Army in Assam and their literal saving of the General Adjutant, a stork that also consumes carrion and helps keep disease at bay. The article stresses that vultures are the most endangered raptors in the world. While you might not be familiar with the African Vulture or the General Adjutant, you probably are aware of the California condor. Vultures exist in almost every country. They are crucial part of the food chain and play an important role in the environment. This is why conservation biologists around the world are screaming out for change to save them!
In Africa alone, seven of the ten vulture species are endangered. Many of the issues that threaten the vultures also impact other species. However, in India and parts of Africa, the vulture population dropped by as much as 99%. The author of the article noted that this is ‘apocalyptic’. We are familiar with causes such as habitat loss, electrocution from hydro poles, collisions with buildings and vehicles, the lead used in fishing and hunting equipment, scarcity of food, as well as egg collecting. There are several other threats to the vultures in Africa. One of them is rock climbing and disturbing the nests. Another is the trade in vulture body parts which are used for good luck charms in Africa. The head is believed to bring good luck in business while other parts are used as talismans. The birds are directly poisoned. The last is the impact of the veterinary use of NSAIDs. What is NSAID poisoning? Have you ever heard of it? I certainly knew about its use because I cannot drink milk or eat meat unless it is organic but, I was not aware of its impact on bird populations such as vultures. It is wonderful to learn something new each day! Although I prefer if it is something happier.
The image below shows the many animals and birds that compete for the small amount of food available in Africa.
NSAIDs are cheap pharmaceuticals given to cattle to relieve them of their pain and to increase their milk production. They are anti-sterodial. It has long been recognized that the industrial dairies in the US keep the cattle in small pens, standing all day on concrete that causes excruciating pain. These cows are also given treatments to increase their milk production. The life of the cow that never gets to explore and eat grass is traumatic and their longevity is significantly reduced.
The efforts in Africa to eliminate the use of veterinary grade NSAIDs as well as captive-breeding programmes are showing promise. Fencing and satellite tracking is gaining ground. Biologists say that it is time to think ‘bigger’. At the same time, the growth in traditional beliefs is spreading in Africa, alongside the use of more modern pesticides. The author states, however, ‘That for all the bad news, conservationists have taken heart from the fact that the decline in African vultures has been slower than the extraordinary rapid collapse that occurred in Asia’.
Elsewhere in Bird World, life is good on this Sunday the 4th of April. Rising early to watch and hopefully see Tiny Tot (aka Lionheart, Braveheart, Tumbles, 3) have breakfast, the chatters on the Achieva Osprey site probably had their mouths open. A headless fish arrived at 7:22:22. There was some confusion on the nest as Jack stayed with the fish and Diane left for a break. Tiny had already positioned himself and Dad began to feed him. Jack is not the best at feeding the chicks – he is known for touching beaks with no fish – but this morning Tiny got bites. Neither 1 nor 2 seemed interested. They were very busy preening. Eventually 1 joined and Dad fed 1 a bite then Tiny a bite. Mom returns and Dad leaves at 8:01:17. Diane continues feeding Tiny. Tiny awoke with a crop from yesterday but he ate this morning til he could not eat anymore. At 8:12:07 he stopped. There was not a kerfuffle with the older siblings.
Look carefully at Tiny above (far left chick). His little tail is growing and his plumage is changing. A few more days of good feedings and he might be out of the ‘woods’ in terms of his survival.
In the image above, Tiny is in the back. You can see his crop. He is standing confidentially next to 2. What a joyous moment on this nest.
The two bald eaglets of Nancy and Harry at the Minnesota DNR nest are growing. Everything is fine on that nest. Harry has learned to feed them and he is a good provider. Nancy is a fantastic mom. Look at those cute little bobbleheads enjoying the warm sun with their mother.
Kisatchie is growing and growing. First time parents Anna and Louis have done really well. The nest is coated with pine to keep away the insects. Kisatchie is healthy and well fed. His plumage is changing every day as he rids himself of his natal down.
I am afraid to say little owlets anymore. Look at Tiger (left) and Lily (right). They are keeping both Bonnie and Clyde busy hunting, day and night it seems. They look like they are wearing beautiful mohair coats with hoods. In my neighbourhood, yesterday, we were reminded about how formidable a raptor these Great Horned Owls are when one of the ones living nearby tried to take off with one of the neighbour’s cats that had gotten out in the back lane. Remember. Great Horned Owls can carry three times their own weight!
And last but never least, my all time favourite bird mother, Big Red sitting on her three eggs in the Red Tail Hawk nest on the Cornell University Campus. Isn’t it lovely? She actually gets to enjoy some sunshine today!
Thank you so much for joining me today. Keep your eyes on what is happening in the Tampa area. There is rumour that 480 million gallons of radioactive water is threatening to push down a retaining wall. If so, this will be catastrophic not only for the people of the area but for the wildlife – including many Ospreys and Bald Eagles that we so dearly treasure.
Thanks to the following for their streaming cams where I grabbed my screen shots: the Kisatchie National Forest and the USFWS, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Cornell Bird Lab Red Tail Hawk Cam at Ithaca, Farmer Derek, and the Achieva Credit Union in St. Petersburg.
Credit for feature image: “In search of the Maltese Falcon #13 – White Backed Vulture, Malta Falconry Centre” by foxypar4 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
The Greater Adjutant is a stork. It has long spindly legs, a strange pouch hanging from its neck, gorgeous blue eyes, an orange-yellow neck and bill. There are no feathers on its head; instead only a few black hairs. It has large black and white wings when an adult with a white underneath.
The General Adjutant is one of the rarest and most endangered birds in the world. Standing as tall as a 1.5 metre person (or 5 feet) the birds survive on whatever food is available – fresh fish, scraps, and carrion. They are often seen foraging in the landfills alongside people trying to find items of value to sell. In the 19th century, the bird was found all across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. In Calcutta, its image adorned many of the colonial public buildings because it was a respected cultural symbol. The loss of habitat in the twentieth century brought the numbers into decline. Of the 800-1200 Greater Adjutants known to exist, the majority live in one province of India, Assam. Assam is in the Northeast of India.
For the general population of Assam, the birds are called hargilas or ‘bone pickers.’ Few considered them beautiful. Instead, ordinary Assam citizens were repulsed by the birds because they often have to survive on carrion (the dead). As a result, people cut down the trees that contained their nests not recognizing that the storks were vital to cleaning up the environment.
A woman, Purnima Devi Barman, was conducting research on the Adjutant Stork for her PhD at Gauhati University in Assam. She is a conservation biologist. She knew the value of the storks to the eco system and set about to teach the people of Assam to respect the birds, to love them, and, most of all, to protect them. She put her PhD on hold while she worked on her project. Barman decided to start in Kamrup where the majority of General Adjutant nests existed. Barman believed that if she could create a sense of pride in the rare birds she could save them.
Barman worked tirelessly. She gathered up an army of women to help her. They became known as the Hargila Army. They created puppet shows, cooking and baking contests, songs, dances, and drawing contests to help instil in the minds of the people the value of the stork. Women began to sew images of the bird on cotton bags, then on their clothing, and, as a real tribute to the change in attitude, they created henna designs for their hands and arms, especially for weddings. There are modules on the conservation of the General Adjutant in the schools in addition to ecology and the environment. Special awareness workshops are held that focus on every level of society and the role they can play in preserving this important bird. Today, the number of nests has grown from 27 to more than 210 in just thirteen years. Where the habitat is lost, there are now artificial platforms being built for the storks. Barman continues to work with her Hargila Army. She believes that social change and the empowerment of women rather than laws are the best model for conservation.
To further encourage continued protection of the birds and their nests, a scholarship program for the children of people who own General Adjutant trees with nests has been established for those wanting to work on the conservation of the General Adjutant. There are also certificates for those protecting nests. The entire community has become involved working with the Hargila Army of Women. A Hargila Learning Centre, a museum, and more rewards – large and small – are planned for the future. As hoped for, the Hargila has become a symbol of pride for the people. At the same time it has empowered a group of women who were otherwise invisible within their communities. Now, other conservation biologists are looking to Barman’s model to help the elephant and the tiger.
If you look at the image of the bird above, it is beautiful. Look at its beautiful plumage and those amazing ice blue eyes.
Thank you for joining me today. I hope that you have been inspired by Barman and her Army of the Hargila. It takes one clear idea, a determined individual, and a supporting group but what seems hopeless at first can become a glowing reality.