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Trade and hunting of owls on rise: report
Published on 7 Nov. 2010 12:39 AM IST
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: Though the Northeast has not been listed as a major centre for owl trade in the country, the “custodians of night” are still hunted by communities for various reasons.
According to a report on Imperilled Custodians of the Night: A Study of the Illegal Trade, Trapping and Utilisation of Owls in India released by forest and environment minister Jairam Ramesh a few days ago, if enough steps are not taken in the Northeast, the owls might fall into the hands of big trappers.
The report was published by Traffic India, which is the Indian chapter of Traffic — the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network. An Oriental bay owl was treated at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) near Kaziranga National Park last year after being rescued and was later released in the wild.
Forest officials said the sighting of the owl is rare and it was first sighted in Kaziranga way back in 2003, which is an indication that owls are being traded. In India, owls are highly prized and in demand for use in black magic, despite legal protection under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and their inclusion in Appendix I or Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
On the barn owl, the report said the species is caught in large numbers in Assam and some other states. Barn owls are reasonably easy to trap because of their relative tameness and tendency to perch on electricity pylons and other exposed perches. “On the Assam-Bangladesh border, trappers catch barn owls using a wire mesh-encased cage with a protruding wooden platform placed in the forest containing a female barn owl. Wild males alight on the platform and trigger an umbrella net that captures them,” the report said.
Quoting Vivek Menon of Wildlife Trust of India, the report said in Guwahati and surrounding areas, there is a superstition that trappers of barn owls do not bear sons and consequently few trappers catch them.
On its killing, the report said several local village tribes in the Northeast such as the Karbis and Garos collect birds, including owls, to be sold in weekly markets.
Quoting local experts, it said in Dimapur and Kohima markets, Naga tribals often sell birds, including owls for food. “In Arunachal Pradesh, the Nishi and Wancho tribes collect birds, particularly juveniles, and trap and hunt them using indigenous methods. They either consume the birds or use their body parts,” it said.
Jungle owlets are also collected and sold for food and other purposes in Assam, especially by the Karbi tribe, who harvest the chicks each year from May to July and raise them on a diet of insects.
In Arunachal Pradesh, the Nishi/Wancho tribes use owl claws or owl tail feathers in their traditional headgear. It has recommended establishment of rescue/rehabilitation centres for seized owls and discouraging owl taxidermy in private collections.
Such measures should be accompanied by a public awareness campaign highlighting the threats posed by illegal owl trade and the rehabilitation of traditional bird trapping communities into alternative livelihoods.

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