For Hindus, this time of the year is the most awaited and most auspicious period in the annual calendar. While many get ready to be part of the celebrations with two major festivals of Dussehra and Diwali coming one after the other, there are also a few who wish to seek the blessings of the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi through whatever ways and means. Even today, therefore the goddesses’ traditional mount, the owl, is sacrificed by blinded individuals to ensure prosperity in their lives but forever doom the life of a harmless bird.

In the period between Dussehra and Diwali therefore business is booming for people like Babu Baheliya. It is this specific time of the year when many come to this bird catcher seeking priced owls. But while the bird catcher rejoices, it is another matter for the captured owls that are sacrificed to appease the Goddess Lakshmi and to ward off bad luck on the night of Diwali. 

People like Babu Baheliya sitting in his dingy alleyways of Meerut can easily pocket up to Rs. 50,000 selling 2 or 3 owls to individuals blinded with superstition. The trade flourishes during the festival of Sharad Poornima (the full moon night right after Dussehra) and continues to peak near Diwali. It is these two days when Lakshmi is worshipped most arduously in many homes and therefore the rise in demand for the sacrificial owls.

“Owls are associated with various myths, folklore and superstitions concerning black magic and witchcraft, prophecy, birth, death, and many other natural and unnatural phenomena. Given the mysteries usually associated with them, it may also come as a surprise that owls are heavily targeted for illegal trade,” says Ravi Singh, secretary general at WWF-India.

Pricey Owls

Owls were included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and protection under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. But according to wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, out of 32 species of owls in the country, 15 have been found in the illegal domestic bird trade.

Exotic Pet & Sacrificial – The popularity of Harry Potter has prompted many to buy owls as pets but most of the birds sold in the illegal pet market are sacrificed during traditional rituals. Mostly, people behind the sacrifice are so called shamans or tantriks, the black magic experts.

“Such tantriks claim to be able to cure a variety of maladies and ill-fortune, ranging from desire for a male child, prolonged sickness, infertility, the need for vashikaran (being able to control someone). The demands are either from tribal areas or from towns and cities where demand is created by practising tantriks. Owls are sold at a premium,” says Abrar Ahmed, an expert on the bird trade.

Body Parts – Owl parts are in great demand too in many tribal areas where bones, beaks and talons of owls are sold. The busy by-lanes around the Ajmer Dargah Sharif, the Delhi Jama Masjid, and Chowringhee and Kalighat in Kolkata abound in vendors doing a brisk business selling amulets and other charms made from owl parts.

According to Paul D. Frost, author of Owls Mythology and Folklore, “In India, ‘food’ made from owls was believed to have many medicinal properties, curing seizures in children and rheumatism. Eating owl eyes was believed to enable a person to see in the dark, while owl meat was believed to be an aphrodisiac.”

Bird Traps – Another use of the captured owls is as birds such as minlas, sibias, thrushes, magpies and yuhinas, all birds that fetch a good price in the pet market. Collared owlets are most frequently used for trapping silver-eared mesias and red-billed leiothrixes, while jungle owlets are used to trap thrushes and magpies.

But the owl is in no way treated with care when it helps the catcher lure other birds. According to the investigative report by Livemint, they sew its eyelids shut, and then train the bird to sit on a bamboo pole to which it is tethered by a cotton thread. The trappers then conceal themselves and mimic the distress calls of various birds, all the while shaking the pole to make the captive owl flutter. Small birds begin mobbing the owl and are caught using glue on a bamboo stick.

 

Rising Demand

The demand for owls is not limited to a state or two in the country. In fact, be it Delhi or Mumbai, Kolkata or Bangalore all over the country markets are thriving with owl business.

 The highest demand is for the horned owls. Catchers often disguise spotted owls to look like them or the rock eagle owl. They are dyed with tea and lamp-black mixed with mustard oil and feathers are stuck with latex to the head, besides red colouring agents being injected into the eyes of the bird. Shikras and sparrowhawks are often beheaded and their body parts passed off as those of owls.  

Ahmed says that the way owls and other animals are treated in India is as much a social problem as a legal one.

“To find solutions at the grass roots level, rehabilitate communities which are engaged in the trapping of birds, bust myths on owls, crack down on taxidermists, and develop rescue centres for owls” is what can solve the problem he says.

An Appeal

What readers can do this Diwali is keep your eyes open for such barbaric activities in your community and neighborhood and report the matter immediately to local animal rescue centres or even the police. When you celebrate Diwali to usher in light in your life, let the light not cease then in another creature’s life.

Related Stories:

Lesser Florican getting Lesser and Lesser in India

Now Find Indian Birds Online

Great Indian Bustard now Critically Endangered

Reference: Livemint

 

About Atula Gupta

Atula Gupta is the Founder and Editor of indiasendangered.com. Her work has appeared in a number of international websites, dailies and magazines including The Wire, Deccan Herald, New Indian Express, Down to Earth and Heritage India on issues related to environment and its conservation. She is also the author of Environment Science Essentials, a set of books for school children. She hopes this website provides a platform for people to be aware about species in the verge of extinction and heighten their conservation efforts.

20 thoughts on “Why Owls of India do not like Diwali

  1. An eye opening article Atula – what a punishment for being a mythological bird – if only we, the himan beings, started feeling the pain of the other beings, this planet will suffer less.

  2. Its a sheer eye opener for us.May god give enough sense to those who are sacrificing endangered species…
    Infact owl is considered as Lakshmiji’s Sawari and such a disregard for the goddess’s vehicle……

    I can still recall in my childhood we use to hear OWLs making noices which use to scare us from going out…….
    But nowadays its been ages that I have seen an owl.
    Last one I saw was in Kanha wen I went there in 2008.

    1. Yes, Gaurav, there are lesser and lesser owls seen or heard today, thanks to the catchers and the killers mentioned in the article. I remember seeing an owl last in 2006. The species that are part of myths and scary stories get little attention when it comes to conservation and owls are one such species. But yes, society is to blame for their low numbers as much as environment hazards.

  3. Puja,
    A very interesting article indeed. This was actually new information for me. I had never heard of owl sacrifices! However, I feel, whether for fun, for food or for fable, a sacrifice is a sacrifice and we humans never stop when the result is perceived as even being “remotely” beneficial to us. Man needs to take a long, hard look and then decide..

    Jaya.

    1. You are absolutely right didi. When man is even slightly threatened by animals, we kill them, like the Ohio incident, but when we threaten the existence of other species…the rule automatically change.

    1. very sad really Gita. Murdering owls for religion’s sake. I am glad you saw one in your neighbourhood. Hope there are more sightings to follow.

  4. Dear please help us get rid of these bunch of owls.the make screeching noises thru ut the night.please guide us how to get rid of them without harming them.

    1. Dear Pankaj, Owls are protected birds and even if not, they have as much right to live as any other creature in the world, inlcuding humans. I understand you might be disturbed by the noise they make, but it is a difficult question to answer as to how to remove them without harming them. First, if the owls are nesting, I would request you not to take any harsh actions as they may be nurturing young ones. Let the babies grow then you can tackle the parents. Owls rarely come near humans and are frightened if they frequently see humans. You can put something like a scarecrow around the tree or pole where they sit. You can also ask any of your local animal rescue centres for help. Alternatively, you can learn to live with the occasional sounds they make… the honking of horns, bus, trucks, diwali bombs etc. are afterall the noises you already live with.

  5. Hi, How do we tackle the screeching sounds made by these owls? they look beautiful, almost divine no doubt, but my kid hasnt slept in her room for more than 2 months coz of an owl family which is rearing two owlets just above her room window. come evening and the owls start screeching,,,, i go to bed invariably with a head ache. How do we ensure that they dont disturb us? We obviously don want to disturb them either…

  6. Hi Atula,
    I wish to know if I can keep as pets a pair of Barn Owls in Mumbai : I surfed on the net but could not finf if being included in Schedule IV of the W(P) Act makes it illegal to do so.
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Niranjan, Barn Owl is a Shedule IV animal protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of India 1972 and cannot be kept as a pet. It would be best to leave them in their forest homes.

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