Who’s Hoo? How to identify owls in illegal wildlife trade this International Owl Awareness Day

Posted on 04 August 2021
Owl poster
New Delhi: Owls in India are victims of superstitious beliefs and rituals often promoted amongst the unsuspecting public by local mystic practitioners.
TRAFFIC, an organisation that works to ensure wildlife trade is not a threat to the conservation of nature, has identified 16 species of owls that are commonly trafficked in the illegal wildlife trade in India. To raise awareness about these owl species and help with their identification, TRAFFIC and WWF-India have created an informative poster, ‘Imperilled by illegal wildlife trade: Owls of India’, which is freely available to download.
The poaching and trafficking of owls in India have become a lucrative illicit trade resting on the wings of superstition, said Dr Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC’s India Office. “Lack of awareness about owls in the illegal wildlife trade and the limited capacity of enforcement agencies to identify them has made this illegal activity difficult to detect or curb. We are hopeful that our new identification poster will help to bridge this enforcement gap.”
Out of the approximately 250 owl species found worldwide about 36 are found in India. All owl species in India are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, making poaching, trade, or any other form of exploitation a punishable offence. They are also listed in Appendix II of CITES, thus tightly regulating their international trade.
Despite the legal restrictions, every year, hundreds of birds are sacrificed for mystic rituals and practices linked with superstition, totems, and taboos across the country, and this usually peaks around the festival of Diwali. Especially in smaller towns and villages, the use of owl parts such as the skull, feathers, ear tuffs, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat, and bones are prescribed for ceremonial pujas and rituals.
Mr Ravi Singh, Secretary-General and CEO of WWF-India, said, “Owls as birds of prey play a crucial role in balancing our ecosystem and as friends of farmers, keeping rodents in check. They also have a strong cultural significance and often elicit strong emotions ranging from fascination, awe, hate, to disdain. The continuing trend of these birds being exploited for illegal trade needs to be negated through concerted action. A strong citizen support, generated through public awareness can go a long way in their conservation”.
Dr Dhananjai Mohan, Director, Wildlife Institute of India, added, “Owls keep a check on agricultural pests, reducing the dependence on pesticides. It is important to conserve and protect the species and such initiatives by TRAFFIC and WWF-India are impactful and will hopefully contribute towards curbing illicit trade of owls in the country”.
TRAFFIC and WWF-India also organised a webinar ‘Owls in Illegal Wildlife Trade’ with subject experts such as Dr Dhananjai Mohan, Director, WII; Dr Prachi Mehta, Executive Director- Research, WRCS; Mr Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO, WWF-India; Dr Saket Badola, Head, TRAFFIC, India Office and Dr Merwyn Fernandes, Coordinator, TRAFFIC India Office. The webinar went LIVE on Facebook and YouTube and had experts deliberating about poaching and trafficking of owls in India, and the initiatives required to curb this menace.
The poster ‘Imperilled by illegal wildlife trade: Owls of India’ is available freely for the enforcement agencies such as forest departments, police, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Railway Protection Force (RPF).
For any queries or more information, please contact Dr Saket Badola, TRAFFIC, India Office at saket.badola@traffic.org or contact Ms Dilpreet B. Chhabra, TRAFFIC, India office at dilpreet.chhabra@traffic.org or call +91 9899000472. Visit www.trafficindia.org to download the poster.
TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, is working to ensure that wildlife trade is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC in India operates as a programme division of WWF–India, the country’s largest conservation organisation. More: www.traffic.org; www.trafficindia.org
  1. Of the owl species found in India, 16 species are most commonly reported in the illegal wildlife trade. These are - Asian Barred Owlet Glaucidium cuculoides, Barn Owl Tyto alba, Brown Fish Owl Ketupa zeylonensis, Brown Hawk Owl Ninox scutulata, Brown Wood-owl Strix leptogrammica, Collared Owlet Glaucidium brodiei, Collared Scops-owl Otus bakkamoena, Dusky Eagle Owl Bubo coromandus, Eastern Grass-owl Tyto longimembris, Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum, Mottled Wood-owl Strix ocellata, Oriental Scops-owl Otus sunia, Rock Eagle-owl Bubo bengalensis, Spot-bellied Eagle-owl Bubo nipalensis, Spotted Owlet Athene brama, and Tawny Fish-owl Ketupa flavipes.  TRAFFIC’s latest poster highlights these 16 owl species.
TRAFFIC’s report on poaching and illegal wildlife trade of owls in India titled “Imperilled Custodians of the Night” launched in November 2010 can be viewed at https://wwfin.awsassets.panda.org/downloads/imperilled_custodians_of_the_night.pdf
Owl poster
© TRAFFIC India Enlarge
Barn Owl
© Martin Harvey/WWF Enlarge
© Abrar Ahmed Enlarge
Owl poster launch
© TRAFFIC India Enlarge
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