Black magic curses owls
Article Date: 2009-01-28 Source: http://www.telegraphindia.com
By G. S. Mudur
New Delhi, India - Superstition and black magic are threatening owls in India.
A six-month study of barn owls by a zoologist at the Maharaja Sayajirao
University Baroda has revealed what he says is a uniform pattern of unnatural
injuries that point to intentional twisting and breaking of wings.
"These injuries appear to have been deliberately inflicted by human hands," said
Ranjitsinh Devkar, assistant professor of avian biology at the M S University.
In a collaborative study with the Gujarat forest department and the Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Devkar detected 30 birds in the city of
Baroda, each one of them with a serious injury to a single wing.
A close examination showed that in each bird, the wing appeared to have been
twisted to snap the humerus-radioulna joint, a bone on the wing. "The severity
of the injury varied which would be expected if it's done by human hands,"
Devkar told The Telegraph.
Anecdotal accounts from veterinarians suggest owls with similar injuries have
been observed in Indore, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, he said.
Staff at the Van Chetna Centre, a veterinarian clinic in Baroda, deliver first
aid to the birds, applying antiseptic to wounds, trimming the feathers to
lighten the load on the damaged joint to allow it to heal faster, and protecting
them in enclosures.
Devkar has presented the findings in the journal Current Science, published by
the Indian Academy of Sciences.
The dates of rescue overlapped with the Indian lunar calender. Nineteen of the
30 injured owls were picked up within three days of a new moon. This, he said,
is a strong indicator that the injuries had to do with black magic practices.
"I'm not surprised at all," said Girish Jathar, programme officer, Centre for
Environment Education, Ahmedabad. "Owls have been victims of superstition that
persists among tribals even today."
Jathar, who has completed a doctorate in spotted forest owlets, recalled that he
had observed owl wings and legs for sale in tribal fairs. His socio-economic
study had suggested that 73 per cent of a sample of tribal people at Nandurbar
in Maharastra believe that "owls feed on human souls".
"There's a widespread superstition here that killing a young owl boosts
fertility," Jathar told The Telegraph.
In one tribal fair in a hill station called Toranmal in Maharashtra, he had
observed a woman selling owl legs for Rs 100 a pair, and the dry body of an
eagle owl for Rs 350.
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