More than a month after two barn owls went missing from zoo at Bathinda, the police have finally registered an FIR against unidentified persons for theft and trespass.
While the zoo officials claim that there was no delay on their part in informing police, the latter has claimed that there was a delay on part of zoo officials as initially, they kept probing at their own level suspecting involvement of zoo staff.
Two barn owls, which is a protected species under Schedule-IV of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, went missing from their enclosure on the intervening night of September 15 and 16.
After the incident, the district forest officer (DFO) had transferred a worker Vijay Kumar while three night guards – Satnam Singh, Rajinder Singh and Rajpal Sharma- who were on duty that night- were fired. They were contractual employees.
Amrit Pal Singh, district forest officer, Bathinda, speaking to The Indian Express, said, “One of the two locks were found broken. Also, the meshed net was tampered. Two of three barn owls were missing while one is still there. Since the internal lock was broken, we were suspecting that our own staff was behind the theft. We have dismissed three night watchmen who were on duty and transferred one multipurpose worker.”
He claimed that there was no delay on part of forest and wildlife department to get FIR registered. “Police should know that why it was registered after a month,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Sandeep Jain, state animal welfare officer, Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) said that if FIR was registered in time, owls might have been recovered. “Owls are in great demand ahead of Diwali as their blood, claws and feathers are used for black magic and other superstitious rituals by sorcerers. It is a superstition that Goddess Laxmi is pleased this way. Owls, cats and crows are also smuggled ahead of Diwali. Police and administration needs to ensure tighter security at zoos.”
After the incident, the chief wildlife warden of Punjab has also issued orders directing all zoos in state to tighten security for owls, snakes (especially red sand boa) and other birds ahead of Diwali. The orders say that since these animals are in high demand ahead of Diwali and smuggled for black magic and other superstitious rituals, their security should be tightened. Field staff should be there on duty throughout night, say orders.
FIR has been registered on complaint of forest guard Sohan Singh under the sections 457 (trespass) and 380 (theft) of IPC at Bathinda Sadar police station against unidentified persons.
Jaspinder Singh, SHO Bathinda Sadar police station said, “There was no delay on our part in registering FIR. It was registered as soon as zoo officials came with authority letter from their department on October 22. Three night watchmen who were on duty are being questioned.”