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Owls relatively safe in Kerala

K.S. Sudhi

KOCHI: Kerala is emerging as a haven for owls while they are being hunted down in large numbers elsewhere in the country.

At the national level, it was feared that the killing of the nocturnal birds might go up on the day of Deepavali, the festival of lights. It is mostly for black magic and sorcery that the birds are hunted down, according to TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Over the years, the cases involving the trade of owls have come down drastically in Kerala, said N. Gopinathan, Chief Conservator of Forests (Vigilance).

It must be the fact that there is not much money involved that resulted in the fall in the cases. Earlier, there were speculations that a perfect owl would fetch considerable money in the illegal market.

However, those who have ventured into the trade might have realised that the bird would fetch them only a pittance, Mr. Gopinathan said.

The increased public awareness has also helped in bringing down the trade. The stray barn owls that get accidentally trapped are normally released to the wild, he said.

According to Martin Lowel, Divisional Forest Officer of the Flying Squad, Kozhikode, only five cases of owl trade were booked this year against 24 cases last year.

The forest officials, with the support of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, had tracked an attempt to trade owls through some Internet sites last year. Sensing that the law enforcers were after them, the website was shut down. A Keralite operating from the Gulf was suspected to be behind it, Mr. Lowel said.

Owls with false ear-tufts are the most sought after species. The false ear-tufts are thought to bestow greater magical properties on the birds, according to TRAFFIC.

At the same time, Mr. Lowel said, there was information that some traders preferred spotlessly pure white owls. However, such species is not known to have existed, he said.

Of the 14 species of owls of Kerala, the traders were found looking mainly for three species — Barn Owl, Eurasian Eagle-Owl and Mottled Wood-Owl, said P.O. Nameer, Associate Professor (Wildlife) & Head of the Centre for Wildlife Studies, College of Forestry, Thrissur.

It was mostly the barn owls that were targeted earlier. Some incidents involving the other two varieties were also reported. One common trait shared by the three species is that they are all seen near human habitations.

They also come under the category of big owls, Dr. Nameer pointed out.

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