Imperilled custodians of The Night : Black Magic behind illegal Owl trade in India
- *Media Release*
For immediate release
*BLACK MAGIC BEHIND ILLEGAL OWL TRADE IN **INDIA***
*TRAFFIC India exposes the s**urreptitious owl trade in India***
*New Delhi**, **India**, **2 November **2010*�Use of owls in black magic and
sorcery driven by superstition, totems and taboos is one of the prime
drivers of the covert owl trade, finds a TRAFFIC India investigation into
the illegal trade, trapping and utilization of owls in India.
TRAFFIC India�s report entitled �*Imperilled Custodians of the Night*� was
launched today by Shri Jairam Ramesh, Hon. Minister of Environment and
Forests at his office in New Delhi. The prime investigator and author of the
report is ornithologist Mr Abrar Ahmed.
Hunting of and trade in all Indian owl species is banned under the Wildlife
(Protection) Act 1972 of India.
While the exact number of owls traded each year countrywide is unknown, it
certainly runs into thousands of individuals and there are anecdotal reports
of owls becoming rare throughout India due to loss of suitable habitat
especially old growth forests.
In light of such reports, TRAFFIC is calling for measures including better
law enforcement to curb the trade in owls immediately.
TRAFFIC also calls for raising awareness of the beneficial and vital role of
owls in the ecosystem, the birds being of particular benefit to farmers
through their predation of rodents and other crop pests.
The sacrifice of owls on auspicious occasions appears to be a regular
practice and TRAFFIC warns of a possible increase in owl trade and sacrifice
around Diwali, the Festival of Light, which this year is on 5th November.
Shaman or black magic practitioners frequently referred to as *tantriks* in
India, prescribe the use of owls and their body parts such as skull,
feathers, ear tuffs, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak,
tears, eggshells, meat and bones for ceremonial *pujas* and rituals.
Of the 30 owl species recorded from India, 15 have been recorded by this
study in the domestic live bird trade. Owl species most highly sought after
by traders are large species, especially those with false �ear-tufts�
(actually feather extensions on the head), which are thought to bestow
greater magical properties on the birds.
However, trade includes both large (e.g. Rock Eagle-Owl) & small (e.g.
Spotted Owlet) owl species inhabiting areas as varied as urban settings and
forest or riverine tracts with the main centres for the illicit trade
located in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh,
Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Bihar, according to TRAFFIC.
Shri Jairam Ramesh, Hon. Minister of Environment and Forest said at the
launch, �Diwali should be a time for celebration across our nation, not one
when our wildlife is plundered to feed ignorant superstition. India's
wildlife already faces many pressures; the additional burden of being killed
out of ignorance and fear is not one that has any place in our modern
�Owls are as important to our ecosystem as the Tigers or any other better
known charismatic species. It is important that the threat to the species is
brought to light on the festival of Diwali and concrete on ground action is
undertaken to curb its trade� he further added.
The TRAFFIC investigation also finds that besides black magic, owls are
trapped and traded for use in street performances; killed for taxidermy and
for their meat; their parts are used in folk medicines; even their claws and
feathers are sometimes used in headgear. Live owls are also used as decoys
to catch other bird species.
*For further information*, please contact Dilpreet B. Chhabra on
1. TRAFFIC�s investigations recorded 15 owl species in trade including
Spotted Owlet, Barn Owl, Rock-Eagle Owl, Jungle Owlet, Collared Scops-owl,
Brown Fish-owl, Dusky Eagle-owl, Mottled Wood-owl, Asian Barred Owlet,
Collared Owlet, Brown Wood-owl, Oriental Scops-owl, Spot-bellied Eagle-owl,
Tawny Fish-owl and the Eastern Grass-owl.
2. The investigations into the owl trade were conducted during nationwide
studies of the bird trade undertaken between1992-2000 with additional
information gathered between 2001 and2008. The prime investigator and author
of the report is ornithologist Mr Abrar Ahmed.
3. *TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network is a joint
programme*of WWF, the global conservation organization and IUCN, the
Union for the Conservation of Nature. TRAFFIC currently works on wildlife
trade issues in over 25 countries and territories, with ongoing research and
activities in several others. In India, TRAFFIC functions as a division of
WWF-India. *TRAFFIC **India** works to ensure that trade in wild plants and
animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature in **India**.* For
more information please visit www.trafficindia.org or www.traffic.org
4. *WWF-India* is one of India�s leading conservation organizations with
programmes and projects spread across the country. The organisation works
towards the conservation of biodiversity, natural habitats and the reduction
of humanity�s ecological footprint. The mission of WWF-India is to* stop the
degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in
which humans live in harmony with nature***
5. Illegal wildlife trade is widespread globally, and is possibly only
behind the illegal narcotics and arms trades in terms of value. The most
commonly encountered products in illegal wildlife trade in India are:
Mongoose hair, snakeskin, rhino horn, Tiger and Leopard claws, bones, skins,
whiskers, elephant tusks, deer antlers, turtle shells, musk pods, bear bile,
medicinal plants, timber and caged birds such as parakeets, mynas and
*Illegal trade, trapping and utilization of owls in India*
*(Factsheet on TRAFFIC **India**�s investigation)*
*1. **What is the purpose of TRAFFIC **India**�s study on illegal trade
of owls in **India**? *
TRAFFIC India�s report titled �Imperilled Custodians of the Night� on
illegal trade, trapping and utilization of owls in India was released on 2
November 2010 by the Hon. Minister of Environment and Forests Shri Jairam
Ramesh at his office in New Delhi. The purpose of the study was to highlight
the on-going illegal trade in owls; identify the species in trade; assess
the volume of trade; identify major trapping sites; identify tribes and
communities involved with this trade; and to document the prices of the
species at various levels, the trapping techniques and trade routes and the
superstition and totems concerning the owl trade. The report also provides
an overview of various legislation concerning the owl trade in India.
*2. **When was this study conducted?*
The study of the owl trade was conducted during a nationwide study of the
bird trade undertaken between1992-2000. Additional information was gathered
*3. **How many species of owl have been recorded in illegal bird trade?
The Indian subcontinent is home to 32 species of owls, 30 of them recorded
from India. Thirteen owl species were recorded by this study in the domestic
live bird trade, while two more species were reported in trade through
*4. **What role do owls play in our ecosystem?*
Owls feed on small mammals, birds, frogs, lizards and insects and are at the
apex of the food chain. As prime consumers of rodents such as mice and rats,
owls can be very beneficial to humans. The importance of owls to
agricultural communities has led to the birds being incorporated into the
rituals of farmers.
*5. **Which legislations govern the owl trade?*
The recently re-discovered Forest Owlet *Heteroglaux blewitti* is listed in
Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India while all the
other owl species in India are listed under the Schedule IV of the act,
under the family names Tytonidae and Strigidae. The act prohibits hunting
and domestic trade in the species. The international trade in owls is
regulated by CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Forest Owlet is placed in Appendix I of
CITES while all other owl species found in India are listed in Appendix II,
restricting the trade in these species.
*6. **What drives the owl trade in **India**?*
Use of owls in black magic and sorcery linked with superstition, totems and
taboos drives the illegal trade of owls in India. Shaman or black magic
practitioners frequently referred to as *tantriks* in India, prescribe the
use of parts from live owls such as skull, feathers, ear tuffs, claws,
heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat and
bones for ceremonial *pujas* and rituals. (*For details of the parts of owls
used in various occult practices, please refer to the report).***
*7. **What are the 13 species observed in owl trade?*
Spotted Owlet *Athene brama, *Barn Owl *Tyto alba, *Rock Eagle-owl *Bubo
bengalensis*, Jungle Owlet *Glaucidium radiatum, *Collared Scops-owl *Otus
bakkamoena, *Brown Fish-owl *Ketupa zeylonensis, *Dusky Eagle-Owl *Bubo
coromandus, *Mottled Wood-owl *Strix ocellata, *Asian Barred Owlet *Glaucidium
cuculoides, *Collared Owlet *Glaucidium brodiei*, Brown Wood-owl *Strix
leptogrammica, *Oriental Scops-owl *Otus sunia *and* *Eastern Grass-owl *Tyto
*8. **Which are the most preferred species in trade? ***
The top five most preferred species of owls by traders are Rock Eagle-owl,
Brown Fish-owl, Dusky Eagle-owl, Collared Scops-owl and Mottled Wood-owl.
*9. **Where does trapping of owl take place in **India**?*
In the order of highest to lowest: Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh/Andhra
Pradesh, Chhattisgarh/Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Gujarat/Uttarakhand
*10. **Which are the main owl trading centres in **India**?*
In the order of highest to lowest: Uttar Pradesh/Madhya Pradesh, West
Bengal/Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan/Bihar.
*11. **Which tribes/communities are involved in illegal trapping and trade
of owls in **India**?*
Baheliyas, Mirshikar, Phasiya/Shikaris, Bhatiyara, Pathami or Jabjalies,
Hakkipukki, Kuruvikkara/Amblakaran/Narikurava, Kalandars, Vagri,
Pardis/Pashe-pardi, Lodies and Harries, Bawarias, Yanadi, Lambadas and
Yerukula, Kalbaleyas/Jogis or Badiya, Karori or Kurmi, Damora, Bhil and
Munda, Garo, Karbi and other north-eastern tribes.
*12. **Besides black magic, what are owls trapped and traded for in **India*
- The Nawab Kalandar well known for training Sloth Bears *Mellursus
ursinus *for street performances have been moving away from their
traditional vocation due to the fear of persecution, and in turn have
started using owls for street performances, particularly in small towns and
- Owls are also trapped, killed and stuffed to be sold as
zoological specimens for schools, colleges and museums.
- Various tribes such as Baheliya, Kurmi-baheliyas, Karbi and
Badiya community, are known to eat owls. This practise is more popular in
- Owls are also killed and their body parts are used or sold for
folk medicines. The feathers, bones and claws are considered an important
ingredient for medicines.
- Many species of owls are also used as decoy birds that are used
to capture other birds.
- Owl feathers are used by Nishi/Wancho tribes in Arunachal Pradesh
in their traditional headgear
- Live owls are also used to fight against Peregrine Falcons *Falco
peregrines* as a form of entertainment in a few places in India
WWF India Secretariat
172-B, Lodi Estate, New Delhi 110003, India
Tel: +91-11-41504786, Fax: +91-11-43516200
Visit us at "www.traffic.org"
TRAFFIC- the wildlife trade monitoring network- is a joint programme of WWF
and IUCN-The World Conservation Union. It works to ensure that trade in wild
plants and animals is not a threat to conservation of nature.
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