How Black Magic is Threatening India’s Owl Population

owl for salePhoto: © Abrar Ahmed

A round head, flat face, forward-facing eyes with some feathers around and the ability to rotate the head as much as 270 degrees in either direction. These are the distinguishing features that make owls instantly recognizable. But today, we humans are taking the lead in their habitat destruction by unprecedented tree cutting and illegal trading, according to a recent wildlife report. What is wrong with the human race? Do we have to destroy everything?

Dyed OwlsPhoto: © Abrar AhmedSpotted Owlet, Dyed Spotted Owlet with coloured eyes, and Dyed Spotted Owlet

For salePhoto: © Abrar Ahmed Spotted Owlet offered at Nakhas market, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India

Owls are trapped and traded illegally in India because they are of great importance in many superstitious beliefs. Thus, these cute birds are used in black magic and sorcery. Referred to as ‘tantriks’, the black magic practitioners use owls and their various body parts in rituals and sacred ceremonies.

Body parts prescribed by a shaman (or tantrik) are the skull, bones, blood, claws, eyes, beak, liver, kidney, meat and eggshells. Some owl species with false “ear tufts” are supposed to bestow great magical powers and are therefore in great demand.


Owls parts for salePhoto: © Abrar Ahmed Owl parts for sale for folk medicinal use / black magic

Performance with owls' eggsPhoto: © Girish V. JatharA tribal man performing using owl’s eggs in Maharasthra, India


The darkest time for owls in India is between mid-October and mid-November. This is the period when the great festival Diwali is celebrated and more owls disappear than at any other time. In this festival, the goddess of wealth and wisdom, Laxmi, is worshiped. The owl is regarded as the vehicle of Laxmi. Because owls are associated with wealth, the animals are sacrificed that day in the misguided belief that it will bring good luck, wealth and wisdom. The way this innocent wild animal is plundered to feed ignorant superstition is totally unacceptable.

Owl TrappersPhoto: © Abrar AhmedOwl trappers


owlsPhoto: © George WangzhiyongTrapped owls


With the owls caught using bamboo poles, nets and various traps, their population is in serious danger. Bird catchers earn a lot and, getting paid up to 10,000 INR (USD 200-250), and thus try to catch this bird by any means. Out of 30 known species, 15 species are caught up in the trade: the spot-bellied eagle owl, spotted owlet, barn owl, Asian barred owlet, dusky eagle owl, collared owl, oriental scops owl, tawny fish owl, rock eagle owl, eastern grass owl, jungle owlet, brown fish owl, mottled wood owl, collared scops owl and the brown wood owl.

GraphPhoto: © Abrar AhmedOwls and owl parts confiscated from various sources (Kalander means street performers)


NewspaperPhoto: © Abrar Ahmed


Recently, a report titled ‘Imperilled Custodians of the Night: A Study on Illegal Trade, Trapping and Use of Owls in India’, written by Abrar Ahmed, was published by Traffic India, the wildlife trade-monitoring network of the WWF and IUCN. The report, based on various investigations and detailed studies, revealed how owl species are facing extinction because of black magic and the illegal trade. Even though the hunting and trading of Indian owl species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 of India, still they are highly sought after by traders.

Perhaps we are not fully aware of the ecological importance of owls. As a natural form of pest control, these natural predators control rodent populations and maintain and balance the food chain.

Owls are birds of prey, as they hunt other living things for food. Their excellent night vision and superb hearing play an important role in locating and attacking prey silently in darkness. We should not hunt them or sacrifice them as the totems of clairvoyants and mystics. It is sad to learn how some non-essential traditions in India are conflicting with an enlightened modern life style.

Though based on religious superstition, this issue is quite difficult to wipe out, but to raise awareness, one does not need to be a part of an NGO. The most practical approach would be to inform the local authorities right away of any of such trading taking place in front of your eyes. Let this unfortunate bird not to be the victim of superstition any longer.