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Panna landscape Needs 2 More National Parks, Not Satellite Tiger Collaring

Ahead of the controversial Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) amidst concerns over enormous environmental loss in Panna tiger reserve (PTR), two major studies have been launched quietly in the PTR -a major project for GPS Satellite collaring of 14 tigers in Panna and radio tagging of threatened vultures.  Wildlife Institute of India (WII)  is involved in both of these, one of a kind projects. All 14 tigers will be collared to study their dispersal behavior and 25 vultures will also be radio -tagged to understand movement, habits and their range of scavenging. The WII is funding both the projects which are part of the Panna Landscape planning for the KBLP. However, experts have raised eyebrows,“The project was not at all required. Tiger habits and their dispersal pattern in Panna is very well known and recorded”, they said.   “ It’s an Exercise in Futility” Eight big cats roaming in the buffer zone of the tiger reserve and 6 from Panna landscape including  the forest divisions surroundin

Of Owl Crisis and Sorcerers

This blog should have been written on August 4 , the day when International Owl awareness day was observed . Or, even before, on July21 when a beautiful Eagle Owl was rescued by the  special task force (STF)  of Madhya Pradesh police ,dedicated to check the wildlife crime,  from a gang   in Ujjain before it could reach  its client or a sorcerer and killed for some superstition linked with the bird. Nevertheless, it is still relevant.

 The One Cr Owl

Though an endangered species, owls have not been able to get the attention required for the protection of this important nocturnal and mostly solitary  bird. But when seen together, its group is called a “parliament” – NO nothing to do with that of our politicians- as owls have long been considered to be of a wise disposition, like our netas- no malice intended.

The Indian subcontinent is home to 32 species of owls, 30 of them are recorded from in India. All these species are protected under the Wildlife (Protect) Act .All other owl species are under schedule IV, their trade trapping hunting transport is banned. 

After a tip off in Ujjain, the STF sleuths -disguised  as  customers - approached  the gang members carrying two animals, both linked with superstitions, an owl (an eagle owl but the gang members call it a golden owl ) and Sand Boa  or do-muha -saamp  with  scientific name Erycinae . It belongs to a subfamily of stout-bodied snakes.

 The gang members had put a price tag of One crore  on the 'Golden Owl'  and Rs 35 lakh on the  6 kg -snake.

“ It was a wonderful  bird. Very cute. Its eyes were like binocular lenses”, said Deepika  Shinde, an inspector   with Ujjain STF  who pretended to be a customer while arresting the gang members. A wildlife lover, she said the gang members  told her while quizzing  them  that the  owl was used for tantrik practicing.  There is good demand for the owls in Ujjain and the neighbouring villages which have a history of   such practice especially during Diwali.  Local priests linked such practices with the presence of many temples.  This is one of the major reasons for the decline in the Owl population.

 Save The Owl

A report prepared by TRAFFIC,  a wildlife  trade monitoring network , in 2010 detailed out  such practices.   Imperilled custodians of the Night , a study on illegal trade trapping and use of owls in India,  said, “ Owls and their body parts are primarily used for black magic .There is a regular organized trade in live owls. The clientele are either from tribal areas where the majority of people are superstitious and use owls to ward off evil spirits or from towns and cities where demand is created by practicing tantriks. Such tantriks claim to be able to cure a variety of maladies and ill fortune, ranging from desire for a male child, prolonged sickness, infertility, the need for a  vashikaran (to control someone). "

It also said, " Even politicians and industrialists are said to be regular clients. The tantrik prescribes rituals to be performed using owl parts or involving live owl  sacrifices on auspicious days  such as amavasya ( full moon night ), the amavasya of Diwali is deemed  to be the most auspicious time for owl sacrifice .It is said that local shamans can kill an owl and take its soul, its power, and put it in a tabiz (an amulet).”

The report further said, “The owl power will then guide the seeker  to find wealth  Black magic practices are either passed on from an Ustad (master) to a pupil or through books available at religious bookstores prescribing owl uses and related craft.”

According to the report , Barn Owl eyeballs, skin and feather roots were to be used for preparing medicines by hakims (traditional healers) practicing Unani medicine in Bangladesh

Is MP Big Centre for The Wildlife Crime

During TRAFFIC’s   investigations while compiling the report, owls turned out to be the second most commonly observed species in trade, including several dead specimens displayed by mendicants on the roadside, especially in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The majority of live Barn Owls observed during the study were recorded from Lucknow bird market in Uttar Pradesh, followed by Delhi, Kolkata in West Bengal and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh Baheliyas and Pardi tribes people involved in other wildlife crimes are believed to be behind owl trapping and selling also. They are active in  many parts of the state especially in  the jungles of Western  MP near Ujjain and Indore and also in Umaria,  Shahdol, Mandla and Panna among other districts. From tigers to Sand Boa, they  deal in all the wild animals.

Ten years ago, India's Environment and Forest minister Jairam Ramesh had linked the owl crisis with  Harry Potter.

"Following Harry potter”,  Ramesh had  told the BBC, “ there seems to be a strange fascination even among the India’s  urban middle class for presenting  owls to their children. “

Owls  had featured in the Harry Potter book and film series to deliver mail to other wizards. Potter’s pet owl Hedwig – a snowy owl – was given to him as a birthday gift.

His comment had coincided with the release of TRAFFIC’s work on owl crisis.


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