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All is not well with the owl,dwindling numbers say it all

Destruction of natural habitat is a widely accepted reason for the dwindling numbers of two major owl species.

Written by DEBARATI BASU | Vadodara |
February 2, 2009 2:45:45 am

MSU zoologist’s study reveals black magic has negatively impacted population of two owl species

Destruction of natural habitat is a widely accepted reason for the dwindling numbers of two major owl species. However,there is an unrecorded reason that has impacted the population of Eurasian Eagle Owl (better known as Great Horned Owl) and the Barn Owl—their use in black magic and sorcery.

In a recent survey,R V Devkar,an assistant professor of M S University’s Zoology Department,has found that there are periods when black art practices are high,and when that happens,more injured owls are found. The study has also raised a concern that with the unavailability of the Great Horned Owl,which is conventionally used in sorcery,the tantriks have now started using the largely found Barn Owl.

The study has found that the number of injured barn owls increases by 87 per cent in the period between January and March. Nearly 63 per cent of the rescued birds were found within three days of the New Moon. The numbers also show an increase after Diwali (specifically kalichaudas).

“I have kept track since 2006 and the pattern repeated every year. Injured barn owls found during January and March are often passed off as kite string injuries,but the nature of injury is completely different. Almost all the owls have a specific wound on the left wing,which is caused due to the deliberate and manual breakage at the humerus- radioulnar joint of the wing,” said Devkar.

But the Forest department has failed to maintain a detailed account of the two species of rescued injured owls.

“We are aware of the tantrik activities on the owls and there were some who were caught as well. Although we maintain a list of all the rescued injured birds,no specific category is maintained of those rescued from tantriks,as it would then require further investigation. Capturing the tantriks is difficult,” said an official at Vadodara forest circle.

Various NGOs working in different regions of the state have confirmed the various methods in which the owls are used in sorcery. While a Great Horned Owl is sold anywhere between

Rs 10,000 and Rs 40,000 and can reach up to Rs 1.5 lakh as well,a Barn Owl is sold at a cost of Rs 200 to Rs 500 or more.

“The selection of owl and cost depends on the customer. It is generally sold on the belief that a bigger bird will have a greater effect in the vidhi. We rescued 17 owls from the tantrik trade last year,” said Darshan Desai,of Prayas,an NGO based in Surat.

The wings are clipped after an owl is captured and then kept for the days considered auspicious for sorcery.

“We have tried many times to bring out the way the vidhi is performed and how the birds are captured and sold. We suspect a racket here,but since capturing a barn owl is a bailable offence,the tantrik is let off without any interrogation,” said Raj Bhavsar of Gujarat Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA),Vadodara.

The Forest department as well as the police give an excuse of black magic being an unorganised trade to mellow down the initiative to trace it. But the situation is worse in Ahmedabad where illegal selling of the birds is on a greater magnitude.

“The birds are illegally brought from Nepal,Raipur,Uttar Pradesh,Madhya Pradesh and Meerut and they are sold in three specific areas of Ahmedabad under consent of the Forest department. We are aware of how the racket works but can’t do anything to change it,” said an animal rescuer from Ahmedabad refusing to be named.

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