'Protect owls from being sacrificed during Diwali'

Law enforcement agencies in the city must step up efforts to check increase in the illegal trade of owls and the practice of their sacrifice during Diwali, according to Traffic India, an organisation that studies wildlife trade.

Delhi happens to be the leading city from where owls are illegally traded to other cities in India, say activists.

“Enforcement officers of the forest department, railways, customs and police need to monitor and control illegal bird trade by launching regular raids and taking legal action against the perpetrators,” said Traffic India associate director M K S Pasha.

The organisation is a joint venture between World Wide Fund for Nature and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Owls are usually sacrificed on auspicious occasions such as Diwali, and their body parts are used in rituals. Black magic practitioners (tantriks) prescribe owl body parts, including the skull, feathers, claws and heart, among others.

“It is unfortunate that although people consider the owl sacred in Indian culture and it is a carrier (vahan) of Goddess Lakshmi, superstitions and false beliefs manipulated over the ages have created a demand for them and their body parts to be used in black magic ceremonies,” said Traffic India member Abrar Ahmed.

Although hunting and selling all Indian owl species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 hundreds of them are trapped and traded every year. The most sought-after species are particularly those with false ear-tufts (feather extensions on the head). They are considered to have greater magical properties. 

The organisation released a report in 2010 highlighting the ways in which owls or their body parts are used in black magic, street performances, taxidermy, consumption and occult medicines. The birds’ eggs are also used for gambling.

The report highlighted that of 30 owl species in India, 15 were found to be in circulation in the domestic live bird trade, with the Spotted Owlet, Barn Owl and Rock Eagle Owl the most commonly traded species.  

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