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Wise ones struggle for survival - Black magic, habitat loss threaten owls

Article Date: 2010-11-08   Source:   Comments: 0

By Avijit Sinha

Siliguri, West Bengal, India - Owls are facing extinction in north Bengal like other parts of India because of loss of habitat and poaching for black magic, according to a study conducted jointly by three prominent environment organisations.

The study has found that the owls - though associated with wisdom in some cultures - are threatened by black magic, superstitions and quackery prevalent in India and in neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh.

Calcutta and Siliguri are the two major centres from where live owls and the body parts of the bird are smuggled to different parts of India and outside the country, says the study.

The findings are mentioned in the report filed by the experts of Traffic India - the wildlife trade monitoring network of the WWF - and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in association with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

The report titled ''imperilled custodians of the night'' was released by Union minister of state for environment and forests a few days back.

The 80-page report mentions that investigations by officials of Traffic India and the IUCN in places like Calcutta and Siliguri have proved the existence of gangs which smuggle owls, captured in both rural and urban areas, to Nepal and Bangladesh. In Bihar, places like Patna and Raxaul are the hubs of illegal owl trade.

''Although the hunting and the trading of the owl are banned under Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, thousands of the species are trapped every year,'' said a BNHS official quoting the report.

''Destruction of habitats, especially forests with old matured trees, is another major reason for the birdís dwindling population. It has been found that of the 30-odd species of owl sighted in India, at least 15 are traded illegally.''

According to the report, superstition is another major reason for the extinction of the bird. Owls are killed mainly in tribal pockets by shamans to exorcise evil spirits. The witchdoctors claim that they have the power to ''take the owlís soul and power'' and put it in a ''tabiz'' (amulet). There are tribal groups, which offer owl dishes on the occasion of ''shraddh'' (religious ceremonies in remembrance of dead family elders).

Owls are also killed for medicines used by quacks, the study has found. The feathers, bones and claws are considered important ingredients of medicines, while the meat is used to ''cure'' a variety of ailments. Also, tribal people use owl claws and feathers as headgears.

Animesh Bose, the programme co-ordinator of the Siliguri-based Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation (Hnaf), said his organisation had rescued at least 20 barn owls in the past on year, while some other NGOs had saved 35 birds.

''Many owls have died because of loss of habitat. But it cannot be denied that poaching and capturing are two other factors which threaten the birdís existence,'' he said.

The report has recommended a number of measures to protect the species.

''These include the rehabilitation of communities which are engaged in the trapping of birds,public awareness programmes to bust myths on owls, action on taxidermists and development of rescue centres for owls,'' said the BNHS official.

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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