Harry Potter Is Hurting Owls in India?

//

(Image: Babzy)

WATCH VIDEO: From dancing birds to flocking flamingos, explore the ins and outs of our featured friends in this Discovery News playlist.

Harry Potter, the boy wizard from the famous movie and novel series, is causing India’s owl population to decline, suggests India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

According to a BBC report, Ramesh believes the dwindling owl population in India is due, in part, to parents gifting their kids with owls after the children hear about Harry Potter’s favorite pet, Hedwig. (In the J.K. Rowling books, Potter receives the white-feathered Hedwig as a gift on his 11th birthday.)

SEE ALSO: Ancient Birds Grew Fat and Lazy

“Following Harry Potter, there seems to be a strange fascination even among the urban middle classes for presenting their children with owls,” the BBC quotes Ramesh as saying this week after a report was released concerning illegal trade of the bird. The report was prepared by the wildlife group TRAFFIC-India, which hopes to curb the illegal trade of endangered species.

Ramesh explained that after being pressured by their Harry Potter fan kids, parents contact illegal wildlife traders to buy owls.

Abrar Ahmed, lead author of the TRAFFIC study “Imperilled Custodians of the Night,” agrees. “Due to the popularity of Harry Potter among kids in India, parents are forced to buy Harry Potter merchandise for their kids,” Ahmed told the PTI news agency in India.

SLIDE SHOW: Birds and the Bees: Animals’ Mating Strategies Revealed

Ahmed added that even he was asked by a friend to procure a live white owl for her son’s Harry Potter-themed 10th birthday party.

Ahmed reminded that “real owls do not make good pets because they need room to fly and hunt for food.”

I haven’t heard about comparable live owl obsessions in other countries, so I think Harry Potter mania could be tapping into India’s already established “black magic” use of owls and their body parts in ceremonial rituals. Such practioners, referred to as tantriks in India, for years have called on their followers to use owl skulls, feathers, ear tuffs, claws, hearts, livers, kidneys, blood, eyes, fat, beak eggshells and more in rituals, TRAFFIC mentions.

SEE ALSO: Birds’ Emergency Calls Signal Friends, Foes

The fixation on owls seems to really escalate around Diwali, the Festival of Light, which will be held on November 5. Thousands of owls are killed at this time of year.

“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,” Ramesh said.

“Owls are as important to our ecosystem as the tigers or any other better known charismatic species,” he continued. “It is important that the threat to owls is brought to light during the festival of Diwali and concrete ground action is undertaken to curb such trade.”

SEE ALSO: Birds’ Pecking Behavior Unchanged Since Dinosaurs

Samir Sinha, TRAFFIC-India’s director, said loss of suitable habitat, especially old growth forests, is also taking a toll on owl populations. He reminded that these birds play beneficial and vital roles in the ecosystem, helping farmers through the owls’ predation of rodents and other crop pests.

India has about 30 native owl species. Hunting and trade of all of them is banned under the country’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.