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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Owls now endangered across the world

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Conservation of nature has been enshrined in Indian traditions and culture since the time immemorial. Hindus have traditions of worshipping trees, rivers, stones and rocks, and even birds and animals since the birth of civilization. Epics and Puranas reveal stories of nice harmonies of humans, plants, and animals that existed during these ages.

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Hinduism has a number of Gods and Goddesses. Each God or Goddess is supposed to be the controller of at least one component of nature or of the material world. Goddess Luxmi is considered to be the Goddess of wealth and Hindus worship Goddess Luxmi on the occasion of Deepawali, the festival of lights. SHE is supposed to move on owl and an owl is called as VAHANA of Goddess Luxmi. So, with the worship of Luxmi, owl is also worshipped in the Deepawali Pooja.Since owl is the Vahana of Goddess Luxmi, it is regarded as sacred by Hindus.

An owl has a strange morphology. It is a nocturnal bird and feeds on rats and other animals. Some persons regard it as carrier of evil spirits. Some tantriks (practitioners of tantra) use owls in practicing black magic. Some tantriks suggest the use of body parts of owls in the worship of Luxmi to please her. Thus, a number of bad notions and ideas gaining popularity in Indian societies are potential reasons behind brutal killings of owls. Many people believe that the medicines made out of body parts of owls can cure a number of diseases like leucoderma, asthma, impotency etc. These ideas have no scientific justifications. However, owls are being smuggled and killed for various human purposes and these practices have reached to a large scale business.

Where do owls live?
Owls live in the holes of old trees and do not build their nest. They remain hidden during the day time and come out when it is dark. They screech a specific sound which is heard from quite a distant place. During winter nights the screeching of owls can be heard most frequently from distant places. They screech even when they      see something strange or even a man. They remain busy in search of field rats that come out of their holes at nights. Owls prey on rabbits also.

In India principally three types of owls are found- The Brown Wood Owl(Strix leptogrammica), Forest Eagle-owl (Bubo nipalensis),and Brown Fish Owl (B. zeylonensis). These owls are found in dnse forests or sacred groves where water is availabl at a certain distance. These are abundantly found in cemeteries that bear largest trees with cavities and hollows in an area( Marcot 1995) . Members of the animistic Garo Hills Tribe of Meghalaya, northeast India, call owls dopo or petcha. Along with nightjars, they also refer to owls as doang, which means birds that are believed to call out at night when a person is going to die; its cry denotes the death of a person (Nengminza 1996; B. Marcot, pers. obs.).

In India, the Brown Wood Owl (Strix leptogrammica), Forest Eagle-owl (Bubo nipalensis), and Brown Fish Owl (B. zeylonensis) are found in dense riparian forests of Ficus near streams and ponds, sites often considered as sacred groves, or in cemeteries that bear the last of the largest trees with cavities and hollows in an area (Marcot 1995; B. Marcot, pers. obs.). Old-forest owls, particularly the Forest Eagle-owl, play major roles in many Nepali and Hindu legends. As heard calling at night from cemeteries and sacred groves, such owls are thought to have captured the spirit of a person departed from this world. In one sense, then, many of these owl species can serve as indicators of the religious value of a forest (Marcot 1995); conserving the religious site equally conserves key roost or nest sites.

Smuggling of owls
Owls are sold and smuggled at the start of Deepawali season. As per surveys done by different wildlife organizations from different regions of the India like Jama Masjid area of Delhi, Mehbooba chowk of Hyderabad, Old Moor Bazaar of Chennai, and Venison Town of Bangalore. The price of a healthy living owl in these markets may start from Rs. 30,000 and go up to 10 lakh.

“People for Animals” - a wildlife welfare organization of India which is headed by Smt. Maneka Gandhi, has done commendable jobs in the protection of Indian Owls. Volunteers of this organization spread in different state run programmes for the protection and rescue of the important bird. People greedy of wealth can pay any amount to buy an owl as they worship it to get “siddhies”.In Hindi the word siddhies means powers given by Gods or By evil spirits after bring pleased with the worshipper. The smuggling of owls as per reports is principally done from Amritsar, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra.

Role of owls in environment
Owls are inseparable link of nature’s ecosystem. They help in the transfer of food materials and energy and protect our crops from rats. As such they can be regarded as friends of farmers. According to “Owls in lore and culture” by Marcot, Johnson and Cocker (2006) Shakespeare wrote of "The owl, night's herald" (Venus and Adonis, 1593, Line 531) and recognized the role that owls have as the "fatal bellmen" (Macbeth, 1605-1606, Act II, Scene ii, Line 4) of that final deepest sleep. In this way, owls have been seen as harbingers of eschatology or the ultimate fate of humans.

In various mythologies in different parts of the world, owls have been considered nothing more than evil spirit. But with the change of time people started recognizing the important roles of owls in environment.

Vanishing species
The species of owls have been reported vanishing across the world. Among various religious and mythological reasons, large scale use of synthetic pesticides in the crop filds stands at the top. In fact rats and other rodents damage crops and cause considerable loss to agriculture. Farmers use rodenticides to kill them. Now, owls prey on rodents and most often eat poisoned rodents. This is the reason why owls are dying in fields. The second important reason behind loss of owl species is destruction of habitats. Except cemeteries, there is no place for owls. Most of the old orchards and even forests have gone. And, without suitable habitats owls fall prey to different types of enemies. Owl falls under the category of endangered bird. The trapping, killing and  selling of owls are prohibited under Wildlife(Protection) Act- 1972.A man can be punished for catching an owl with three to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine for rupees 25 thousand.

Marcot, B. G. 1993. Conservation of forests of India: an ecologist's tour. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland OR. 127 pp.
Marcot, B. G. 1995. Owls of old forests of the world. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report PNW-GTR-343. 
B. G. Marcot, D. H. Johnson, & M. Cocker 2000-06-15, last updated 2010-01-28

Edward Lear's poem "The Owl and the Pussycat", first published in 1871, is a popular reading at many wedding services. The full version is shown below for you.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Key Words : owls, leucoderma,asthma, Edward Lear

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