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Demand For Harry Potter’s ‘Hedwig’ Threatens India’s Owls

November 5, 2010

Heavy demand for the snowy-white owl Hedwig in the popular Harry Potter series are threatening India’s owl population, according to a report released this week in New Delhi by the wildlife trade-monitoring group TRAFFIC-India.

The group’s investigation into the illegal trade, trapping and utilization of owls in India found that Harry Potter’s trusty messenger is a major force in the trade in Indian owls, as fans seek to mimic every aspect of their young wizard idol. 

According to the report, 15 of India’s 30 owl species were for sale in markets. 

Demand for owl parts for ancient rituals are also driving the illegal trade, the group said.

“Use of owls in black magic and sorcery driven by superstition, totems and taboos is one of the prime drivers of the covert owl trade,” TRAFFIC-India said.

“While the exact number of owls traded each year countrywide is unknown, it certainly runs into thousands of individuals and there are anecdotal reports of owls becoming rare throughout India due to loss of suitable habitat especially old growth forests.”

Abrar Ahmed, who authored the report, said he was moved to conduct his research after a friend asked him to purchase an owl for her son’s Harry Potter-themed birthday party.

“Although Hedwig spends much of her time in a bird cage in Harry’s room, real owls do not make good pets because they need room to fly and hunt for food,” Ahmed told Reuters.

“Following Harry Potter, there seems to be a strange fascination even among the urban middle classes for presenting their children with owls,” India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told BBC News at the launch of the report.

Traditional practitioners in India also demand owl bones, feathers, claws, organs, blood and tears for ceremonial rituals, the report found.

The highly desired “ear-tufts”, the feathery extensions on the heads of larger owls, are believed to give the birds greater magical powers, and generate lucrative profits for the local communities that make a living from the trade.

One ancient practice involves the mixing of ground ear-tufts with seeds and milk.  The dried powder is then sprayed on a person’s head to hypnotize them.

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