Panchami Manoo Ukil
Wildlife Service Award 2022
Panchami Manoo Ukil
Birder, author and conservationist extraordinaire
The ancient Haudenosaunee philosophy of the Iroquois in North America flows beautifully through Panchami Manoo Ukil’s life: ‘decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future’. Her parents, Panchami, and the hundreds of children and adults with whom she interacts bear this philosophy.
Panchami inherited her love of nature from her parents who were avid lovers of the outdoors and looked upon plants like children to be cared for and nurtured. Their lifestyle centred on living in harmony with their surroundings, as does Panchami’s.
Her brainchild ‘The Bhubaneswar Bird Walks’ began in 2012, and, later, she co-founded ‘Song of the Wild’ to work on deeper issues of wildlife conservation. With the first ever bird walks in Odisha, she helped create a culture of birdwatching in the state. The success of the initiative enhanced avian studies and field work in the region – for instance, the discovery of nesting of the endangered Indian Skimmers Rynchops albicollis, in Mundali.
Fondly known as Pakhi Panchami (Birdie Panchami) in Odisha, she works with young and old alike to promote knowledge, compassion and coexistence with nature. Panchami, an educationist, is Vice Chair and School Leader at the DN Wisdom Tree Global School. She introduces children to plants, birds and animals, and explains how the intricate web of life links us all. She believes that creating awareness in children is a good way to bring adults into the arena of nature conservation.
A part of Panchami’s heart belongs to Mangalajodi, the wetland on the northeastern fringe of Chilika Lake. Working with local bird guides and boatmen down the years, she successfully managed to get Corporate CSR and community leaders to support and inspire these former poachers so that they continue to be protectors of the local biodiversity. She had understood that this would only be possible if the community became the direct beneficiaries of biodiversity restoration.
Her writing and lobbying opened up Mangalajodi to the outside world and helped turn local boatmen into expert bird guides, who now find their economic and social circumstances greatly improved thanks to increased visitation that often caused boats and homestays to be overbooked! Most houses in Mangalajodi now have functional toilets, solar power, and safe drinking water. A community centre was established and well-wishers soon made better equipped boats, binoculars and bird guidebooks available through Odisha’s many active NGOs who help upskill local youth.
Panchami is currently working on a book on the birds of Odisha. She is undoubtedly one of her state’s finest bird ambassadors with a deep commitment and belief that the youth in the fishing community are destined to be the most effective conservationists of tomorrow.