he illegal trading of owls is a flourishing business in the national capital region, despite persistent efforts made by the authorities to put an end to it. The Sunday Guardian found out during an investigation that there is a high demand for owls during Diwali, when Goddess Laxmi, who rides on owl, is worshipped. The practice of sacrificing owl begins after Dussehra and peaks on Diwali. Occult practitioners say that sacrificing the bird on the night of the festival brings wealth and fortune.
Jairam Ramesh, former Minister of Environment and Forests, had expressed his concern about the practice in November 2010, while releasing a report by TRAFFIC, World Wild Life Fund on the same issue. Delhi reported the maximum number of seizures of owls being traded between 2003 and 2007 (16), followed by Uttar Pradesh (6), according to the report. Seizures were also made from West Bengal, Haryana, Gujarat and several other states. A blanket ban exists against the trade of any species of owl under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
This correspondent went looking for an owl in the Kabutar Market, near Meena Bazar, behind Red Fort in Old Delhi. The place can be identified easily as exotic birds are displayed openly in the few shops that make up the bird market. It is legal to trade in exotic birds.
The first trader this correspondent spoke to, posing as a potential buyer, was well aware of the illegality of the proposed transaction. However, this hardly diminished his enthusiasm. He offered a small owl for Rs 8,000, asking for an advance of Rs 2,000 before delivering the bird. "I can also sacrifice it for you on the night of Diwali. We will go to the park nearby. I will slaughter it, put the dead bird in a sack and throw it away afterwards," he said.
Expedient it might sound, but this is not the traditional way. "The amavasya (the dark night right before the new moon) of Diwali is deemed the most auspicious time for owl sacrifices (Sahai, 1995). It is said that local shamans can kill an owl and take its soul, its power, and put it in an amulet. The owl power will then guide the seeker to find wealth (Marcot et al., 2006)," reads the TRAFFIC report, quoting Imperilled Custodians of the Night, by Abrar Ahmed. It goes on to add: "Black magic practitioners sacrifice owls during Kaalratri hour (after midnight) at remote and lonely graveyards or on the banks of rivers to gain command or strength over supernatural powers."
Photo Courtesy: Abrar Ahmed
Another seller offered a large owl for Rs 30,000, bringing down the initial price of Rs 40,000 he quoted after some bargaining. He demanded an advance of Rs 10,000 before delivering the bird. Like the first seller, he was knew that the transaction he had entered into was illegal. Asked where he sourced the owls from, he brusquely retorted: "What is it to you?"
Abrar Ahmed, who has tracked the owl trade industry for over two decades, said that Rampur in Uttar Pradesh was the biggest hub of the trade. Moradabad and Saharanpur are other major centres in the state. Other places from where owls are supplied to the national capital are in the buffer zone around the periphery of the Jim Corbett National Park, Pilibhit, Nainital and Haldwani in Uttarakhand.
When informed about the trade, Khalid Pasha, coordinator of TRAFFIC, asked this correspondent for the details, which were provided. Pasha, in turn, gave the details to Shyam
Negi, additional director, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, under the Ministry of Environment and Forests. "The department has assured immediate action against the traders," said Pasha.