How India grabbed the Green Oscars edge

How India grabbed the Green Oscars edge
How India grabbed the Green Oscars edge

Two Indian projects made the cut among six worldwide winners of this year's prestigious Whitley Awards, dubbed the Green Oscars for their celebration of animal and bird conservation in developing countries. Two Indian activists were singled out for their work in preserving birds and animals in the country's remote areas and won the annual Whitley Awards. Sanjay Gubbi won the award worth £35,000 for his work to protect Karnataka's tiger corridors and Purnima Barman was recognised for creating an all-female network to save the Greater Adjutant stork, known in India as Hargila, and its wetland habitat in Assam. They are among six global winners of the award shortlisted from 166 entries, each of whom receives a prize worth £35,000 pounds in project funding over one year. “This is a life-changing event for my team. It is a dream of every conservationist to win this award and the prize money will go a long way in expanding our Hargila Army network,” said Barman, who got attracted to the project while she worked on her PhD in Kamrup district of Assam. [caption id="attachment_11462" align="alignleft" width="311"]

Winner Purnima Barman at the 2017 Whitley Awards[/caption] The Hargila storks are large scavenger birds with a global population of just 1,200, 75 per cent of which are found in Assam. Through her NGO Aaranyak, Barman has mobilised her all-female local network towards sustainable livelihoods through weaving traditional Assamese scarves and saris that are then sold to raise funds for the conservation project. “With this award money, we plan to scale up this work, encouraging households in the region to take pride in the species and protect the birds and their nesting trees,” she said. Fellow awardee, Sanjay Gubbi, quit his job as an electrical engineer to work with nature and wildlife. In 2012, working closely with the Karnataka government, he secured the largest expansion of protected areas for the conservation of tigers in his state. “Karnataka is home to the highest number of Bengal tigers in India and in 2015 the figure stood between 10 and 15. Our hope is to take it up to 100 over the next few years but this can only be done through working with the community,” he said. With his award money, Gubbi hopes to reduce deforestation in two important wildlife sanctuaries which connect several protected areas and act as corridors for tigers, allowing them to move between territories. The community focus will be around the provision of fuel-efficient stoves to reduce the reliance on firewood collection from the habitat of the tigers and save lives all round. “The awards are about recognising progress, winning those small battles which cumulatively equate to change at the national level. In addition to the financial benefit of winning the award, winners receive professional communications training to turn scientists into ambassadors,” said Edward Whitley, founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, which set up the awards 24 years ago. The other winners of this year's awards include Indira Lacerna-Widmann from the Philippines for her project of partnering with prisoners to safeguard the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo; Ian Little from South Africa for working on restoring grassland biodiversity; Alexander Blanco from Venezuela for conserving the Venezuelan Harpy Eagles; and Ximena Velez-Liendo from Bolivia for working on the co-existence of Andean bears and farmers in the Bolivian mountains. The Whitley Fund for Nature is a UK-based charity that works to highlight grassroots leaders in nature conservation across the developing world. The winners were felicitated at a special ceremony at the Royal Geographic Society in London in May and received their awards from Princess Anne, HRH The Princess Royal, who is a patron of the charity. The £210,000 prize money, which is divided between the winners, is donated by the World Wide Fund UK (WWF-UK). With her £35,000, Purnima Burman will:

  • Work with 10,000 villagers, schools and government to increase the greater adjutant population; protect nesting sites and rescue fallen chicks
  • Expand the Hargila Army, engaging 300 women with conservation and helping them to pursue sustainable livelihood and education opportunities
  • Seek legal protection of wetland habitat home to the largest nesting colony of greater adjutants
  • Use research findings to make recommendations for more
Why it matters:
  • Over 50 wetlands occur in the project site acting as a life-support system for other species
  • Storks receive relatively little conservation attention
  • Improving the livelihoods of 1,000 people and giving marginalised women a voice
With his £35,000, Sanjay Gubbi will:
  • Scale up distribution of forest-friendly stoves to decrease pressure on tiger corridors and benefit over 1,000 families
  • Empower young people through skill development and training to help them become employed in professions that are not reliant on forest resources
  • Mobilise support for conservation through outreach campaigns
  • Enable people affected by livestock and crop depredation to access government support
Why it matters:
  • There are fewer than 4,000 wild tigers worldwide with approximately 50 per cent living in India
  • Over 100,000 people depend on protected areas for their daily needs and livelihoods
  • Using alternative energy stoves will reduce smoke inhalation - a major cause of respiratory disease

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