India’s Festival of Lights darkens the future for owls



Posted on 07 November 2012  | 
Seized Rock Eagle-Owls. This species is the most preferred in trade for black magic and is becoming rare in most of its distribution areas. The “ear-tuffts” and red eyes makes it a vulnerable for black magic practitioners.
© Abrar Ahmed/TRAFFIC India Enlarge
New Delhi: TRAFFIC is warning of a possible increase in illegal owl trade and sacrifices around Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, which this year falls on 13th November.

Owls are sacrificed on auspicious occasions such as Diwali and their body parts used in ceremonial pujas and rituals, when Shaman or black magic practitioners, also referred to as tantriks, prescribe various uses for owls and their body parts, including the skull, feathers, ear-tuffs, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat and bones.

“It is unfortunate that although many people consider the owl sacred in Indian culture and a vehicle (vahan) of Goddess Lakshmi, superstitions and false beliefs manipulated over the ages have created a demand for owls and their body parts in black magic ceremonies,” said TRAFFIC’s Abrar Ahmed, an expert on the Indian bird trade.

Although hunting and trade in all Indian owl species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, hundreds of owls are trapped and traded every year.

Owl species most highly sought after by traders are large species, particularly those with false “ear-tufts” (feather extensions on the head), since these are considered to have the greatest magical properties.

In 2010, TRAFFIC released Imperilled Custodians of the Night, a report highlighting the various ways owls or their body parts are used in black magic, street performances, taxidermy, consumption, occult medicines, for capturing other birds and even their eggs used for gambling.

The report highlighted that of the 30 owl species recorded from India, 15 had been recorded in the domestic live bird trade with the Spotted Owlet, Barn Owl and Rock Eagle-Owl the most commonly recorded species.

“Owls play an extremely useful ecological role by controlling the population of rats and large insects. In an agrarian country, where 60% of the population is dependent on agriculture, the role of owls should be recognized and strict protection should be given to these magnificent nocturnal birds,” said Ahmed, also the author of the TRAFFIC’s report on owl trade.

MKS Pasha, Associate Director and Interim Head of TRAFFIC in India added, “Enforcement officers from forest departments, railways, customs and police need to monitor and control the illegal bird trade through making regular raids and taking legal action against the perpetrators.”

He also noted the need for establishment of rescue and rehabilitation centers for seized owls and also adherence to proper release protocols.

For further information, please call Dilpreet B. Chhabra at 011-41504786/9899000472 or write to dchhabra@wwfindia.net  ; Abrar Ahmed can be contacted at abrar_bird@hotmail.com
Seized Rock Eagle-Owls. This species is the most preferred in trade for black magic and is becoming rare in most of its distribution areas. The “ear-tuffts” and red eyes makes it a vulnerable for black magic practitioners.
© Abrar Ahmed/TRAFFIC India Enlarge
Owl parts and various other animal products sold near railway station in Satna, Madhya Pradesh.
© Abrar Ahmed/TRAFFIC India Enlarge
Spotted Owlets offered for sale at the famous Mehboob Chowk market in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. This is the most commonly found owl species of India and is a major target for bird trappers around Diwali.
© Abrar Ahmed/TRAFFIC India Enlarge
Spotted Owlets offered for sale at the famous bird market, Nakhas in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. This is the most commonly found owl species of India and is a major target for bird trappers around Diwali.
© Abrar Ahmed/TRAFFIC India Enlarge

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