Fascinated by Harry Potter's 'Hedwig' owl from the famous movie and novel series, urban middle class parents are gifting their kids with the real bird, which is one of the main reasons for its dwindling population, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said.
"Following Harry Potter (film), there seems to be a strange fascination even among the urban middle classes for presenting their children with owls," Ramesh said on Tuesday after releasing a report on the illegal trade of the bird prepared by Traffic, an NGO working to curb the illegal trade of the endangered species.
This encourages illegal wildlife trade as due to pressure from their kids, the parents approach illegal traders in wildlife products to buy owls, he said requesting the parents to abandon these practices that threaten the country's wildlife.
Owls make up part of Harry Potter's magical world, both on the silver screen and in the original books by JK Rowling where "Hedwig" spends much of her time in a bird cage.
Abrar Ahmed, principal investigator of the study 'Imperilled Custodians of the Night' said, "Due to the popularity of Harry Potter among kids in India, parents are forced to buy Harry Potter merchandises for their kids."
In his report, he gave an instance when he was asked by a friend to procure a live white-coloured owl for her son's Harry Potter-themed 10th birthday party.
This was probably one of the strangest demands made to me as an ornithologist, he said asking the parents to not resort to such demands as "real owls do not make good pets because they need room to fly and hunt for food."
The report has called for tougher measures to protect owls ahead of Diwali and Holi noting that thousands of owls are traditionally sacrificed on "auspicious" occasions.
According to the report, owls, a highly endangered species in India, are now being trapped, traded or killed in black magic rituals.
Samir Sinha, head of Traffic India, said loss of suitable habitat especially old growth forests is also taking toll on the birds which play beneficial and vital role in the ecosystem, particularly to farmers through their predation of rodents and other crop pests.
The country is natural habitat for about 30 species of owls and their hunting and trade in all Indian owl species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 of India.