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Black magic curses owls

Article Date: 2009-01-28   Source:   Comments: 0

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.

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from and placed here for comment. is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.

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