Curious case of missing owls

Birds Trapped, Sold For Black Magic Practices And To Brew Medicines
Two Great Horned Owls were stolen from Katraj zoo, supposedly one of the best in the country , on June 26. A probe found that the bird was probably stolen for illicit trade, since the bird is generally not eaten.Owls are protected under schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Last September, authorities of the Chatt Bir Zoo in Mohali, near Chandigarh, found two owls of the same species missing. Again, a probe pointed to these stolen owls being possibly trafficked for black magic practices, which require their nails, beaks and other body parts.

Animal rights activists say these incidents came to fore only because the thefts happened in protected areas such as zoos. Otherwise, NGOs and police have recorded hundreds of cases of owls being trapped and sold in the black market by sorcerers, charlatans and organised animal trafficking rackets.

The problem is rampant, but there seems to be little documentation of the systematic depletion in the number of owls, which are constitutionally protected. In fact, the most exhaustive piece of research in this issue has not come from Indian wildlife officials, but from Traffic India, the wildlife trafficking monitoring arm or the World Wildlife FundIUCN in India.

That report, by bird researcher Abrar Ahmed, documented how the owl population has dwindled in India, not just through their usage in black magic, but also in the curiously named “Hedwig trade“. He says that influenced by popular culture, most notably through the fictional character Harry Potter’s pet barn owl named `Hedwig’, well-to-do families often demand animal experts to get owls for them as pets.

Ahmed said that no species of owls is immune to trafficking and illegal trade, although the cause of it may vary according to region and the time of the year. For example, the WWF report states that while most of the trade in spotted owls happen in the northern states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi, the trade accelerates in the months of October and November, the months of Diwali and Laxmi Puja.

Bird observers also say that the spotted owl has seen a marked decline, at least in metropolitan areas.

“There are species of owls whose numbers have not declined as much as others, or have even seen a slight rise in numbers. But we have also seen a drop in the number of spotted owls observed in the Mumbai metropolitan area,“ said Sunjoy Monga, a bird enthusiast from Mumbai.

Cross-border trafficking of owls is also not uncommon, with the Border Security Force seizing a large haul of the bird from traffickers in 2007, near the Bangladesh border in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal. Investigations later revealed that those barn owls were meant for trafficking to Bangladesh for use in certain “medications“.

Other species, like the spotted owl and the great horned owl, are extensively used in black magic practices in almost all parts of India, due to commonlyheld superstitions. Their body parts like nails, feet, eyes, fe athers or even the entire body can be used in such practices by tantriks (charlatans), promising their clients prosperity, male child or cure from sicknesses. The high demand of owls from almost all parts of India has also sustained many rural communities in the owl-capturing trade, killing a lot of birds in that process, through violent trapping methods.

Anti-superstition activists say that while such practices are rooted in ignorance and poverty , updated laws and awareness programmes can be of help.

“The use of endangered species like owls in such a manner is an unacceptable practice. But people performing such practices are not educated and do not understand that black magic does not bring anyone prosperity .The government should incorporate legislation in the anti-superstition laws against using animals for any purpose. What is also required is awareness programmes. We have gone to many villages and made people aware that either of black magic or using animals in them is not acceptable. Many more need to do it as well,“ said Avinash Patil, executive president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, which had championed the cause of an anti-superstition law.

Source : TOI