The Telegraph
Wednesday , October 19 , 2011
 
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Threatened & the threat
Owls fall prey to superstition

Patna, Oct. 18: The festival of lights is spelling doom for the birds of the night — owls.

With Diwali just a week away, owls — a very important member of the food chain — are being captured and killed in huge numbers in the name of superstitions associated with the festival.

Wildlife experts and bird conservation organisations in the state are worried over the threat to these nocturnal birds, which are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Hunting and trade in all Indian owl species is banned.

According to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list for 2010, there are around 156 endangered species of owls in India at present.

In mythology, owls are beli-eved to be the vaahan (vehicle) of Goddess Lakshmi. Trapped in superstition, people sacrifice this endangered bird during Kalratri (no moon night) of Diwali in their hope to please the goddess.

According to noted ornithologist Abrar Ahmed, owl sale is going on unabated in several markets in Bihar at present.

“Mirshikar Toli in Patna City is a big market of owls. Nearly 200 families belonging to Mirshikar community, known for its long association with wildlife trade, are involved in owl trade. Rock eagle owl, spotted owlet, brown fish-owl, barn owl and oriental scops owls are few of the species that are available in the market at Mishrikar Toli. Also, owls are traded from Patna via Raxual to Nepal. Other big bird markets in Bihar include Makhdumsarai in Siwan, Dukhani Phatak Wali Sarai in Gaya, Deoghar, Begusarai and few other places. There is a huge network of illegal trade of owls among other birds at all these places. Owl body parts are used for various purposes, including black magic, street performances, taxidermy, for capturing other birds, as decoration, in occult medicines, as food and for gambling in owl eggs,” Ahmed told The Telegraph over phone from Delhi. Ahmed is also the principal author of Imperilled Custodians of the Night, a recent report published by TRAFFIC India — the wildlife trade-monitoring network of WWF and IUCN.

The state forest department, however, is negating owl trade in the state. “There is no significant trade of owls in the state. We have not received any such alert either from our state intelligence wing or Wildlife Crime Bureau, Delhi. Moreover, special efforts are always taken by the state forest department to conserve the endangered species,” said D.K. Shukla, chief wildlife warden of Bihar.

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