Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is a bright and colourful religious festival for the Hindu faith. It is a 5 day festival that celebrates the return of lord Rama from his 14 year exile. Today the festival is dominated by bright and colourful lanterns but beneath this celebration there lies a dark underside. Thousands of owls will be sacrificed as part of the celebrations.
TRAFFIC is warning about the likely increase in illegal capture of protected owls and an increase in trade during the Diwali season as the owls are bought and sold as sacrifices and their body parts used in various potions and tonics. This year the 5 day festival begins on 13th November – just a few days away.
India is home to the majority of the Hindu faith and while al owl species are protected by its wildlife laws hundreds of owls are expected to be caught illegally for the festival.
Hindu shamans or tantriks will kill the birds as part of the celebration and then use body parts such as skull, feathers, ear-tuffs, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat and bones in rituals.
“It is unfortunate that although many people consider the owl sacred in Indian culture and a vehicle (vahan) of Goddess Lakshmi, superstitions and false beliefs manipulated over the ages have created a demand for owls and their body parts in black magic ceremonies,” said TRAFFIC’s Abrar Ahmed, an expert on the Indian bird trade.
“Owls play an extremely useful ecological role by controlling the population of rats and large insects. In an agrarian country, where 60% of the population is dependent on agriculture, the role of owls should be recognized and strict protection should be given to these magnificent nocturnal birds.” [pullquote]It is unfortunate that although many people consider the owl sacred in Indian culture and a vehicle (vahan) of Goddess Lakshmi, superstitions and false beliefs manipulated over the ages have created a demand for owls and their body parts in black magic ceremonies.[/pullquote]
The traders and poachers of the owls will target the larger bird species and particularly those which have ear tufts as these are believed to have the greatest magical properties, but any owl species could end up in the traps of the poachers.
Traffic released a report a couple of years ago about the illegal trade in owls in India and they highlighted that 15 of the 30 owls species found in India were discovered in the domestic owl trade.
MKS Pasha, Associate Director and Interim Head of TRAFFIC in India added, “Enforcement officers from forest departments, railways, Customs and police need to monitor and control the illegal bird trade through making regular raids and taking legal action against the perpetrators.”
Species that seem to be particularly targeted by the poachers are: barn owl which can cost about $70 and rock-eagle owls which can fetch as much as $1000 on the black market. Despite being illegal to sell owls they are easy to come by even in New Delhi the capital of India. The bird market at Kabutar Market, near Meena Bazar, have owls available for purchase on display.
The importance of the owl in Diwali is connected to the Goddess Laxmi who rides on an owl.