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Imperilled custodians of The Night : Black Magic behind illegal Owl trade in India

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  • Shubhobroto Ghosh
    *Media Release* For immediate release *BLACK MAGIC BEHIND ILLEGAL OWL TRADE IN **INDIA*** *TRAFFIC India exposes the s**urreptitious owl trade in India*** * *
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2010
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      *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
      society�.



      �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.





      *ENDS***

      * *

      * *

      *For further information*, please contact Dilpreet B. Chhabra on
      011-41504786/43516290.



      *Notes: ***

      * *

      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
      International
      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
      munias.

      *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
      between 2001-2008.



      *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
      seizure data.

      * *

      *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
      longimembri.*

      * *

      *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
      villages.

      - 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
      villages.

      - 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
      Regards
      Shubhobroto Ghosh
      Programme Officer
      TRAFFIC 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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