New Delhi, Oct 26: Diwali, the festival of lights proves to be the dark times for countless owls whose lives are endangered at the hands of poachers. Though the illicit trade of these protected bird species goes on throughout the year, it is during Diwali that the business is at its peak.
The owl which is a revered bird in Hinduism is popularly known as Ullu. Ullu is the most favorite bird of Goddess Lakshmi. Being related to Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Ullu is considered the appropriate medium to appease Goddess Lakshmi. Hence during the night of Diwali, various remedies related to Ullu are performed to achieve wealth, prosperity and happiness.
These birds are poached for their bones, talons, skulls, feathers, meat and blood, which are then used in talismans, black magic and traditional medicine. Owls, especially those with ears, are thought to possess the greatest magical powers with Diwali claimed to be the most auspicious time for owl sacrifices, says TRAFFIC report.
Of more than 30 species of owls found in India, Rock Eagle-owl, Brown Fish-owl, Dusky Eagle-owl, Collared Scops-owl and Mottled Wood-owl are most commonly found in trade.
Black magic practitioners especially in smaller towns and villages, frequently referred to as tantrics in India, prescribe the use of owl parts such as the skull, feathers, ear tuffs, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat, and bones for ceremonial pujas and rituals and such practices peak around Diwali.
Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttarakhand have emerged as hotspots for this trade.
“Owls have a patchy reputation in India-on the one hand they are respected as the carrier of Lakshmi, the Deity of Wealth, on the other hand, owls are also feared as a symbol of ill omen,” said Dr Saket Badola, IFS, Head of TRAFFIC India.
“There are many superstitions about owls in India, often spread amongst a gullible public by black magic practitioners, whose prescription of owl body parts has been a driving force behind this illicit trade. Education, awareness alongside strong wildlife law enforcement measures are needed to secure the future of owls in India,” he added.
Owls are protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, making it illegal to poach, trap, or trade in owls or their body parts. Raising awareness of the issue is a first step in bringing about a change in attitude towards these protected species.
They play a vital role in ecosystems, not least through benefitting farmers by preying on small rodents and other crop pests, making their ongoing protection of high ecological, economic, and social importance.