New Delhi: Warning of a possible increase in illegal owl trade and sacrifices around Diwali, Traffic India, an organisation which studies wildlife trade, Wednesday urged law enforcement agencies to step up efforts to check the perpetrators.
On Diwali, to be celebrated Nov 13 this year, owls are sacrificed and their body parts used in ceremonial 'pujas' (prayers) and rituals by black magic practitioners or 'tantriks'.
Traffic India is the joint venture of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Though hunting and trade in all the owl species in the country is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, hundreds of owls are trapped and traded every year as superstition associates owl with Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
"In an agrarian country like ours, the role of owls should be recognised and strict protection should be given to them as they play an extremely useful ecological role by controlling the numbers of rats and large insects," Traffic India's Abrar Ahmed, an expert on the Indian bird trade, said.
Owl species most highly sought after by traders are large species, particularly those with false "ear-tufts" (feather extensions on the head) as these are considered to have the greatest magical properties, he added.
The organisation urged the enforcement officers from forest departments, railways, customs and police to strictly monitor and control the illegal bird trade through regular raids and taking legal action against the culprits.
"Establishment of rescue and rehabilitation centres for seized owls and also adherence to proper release protocols is also needed," said MKS Pasha, associate director of Traffic India.