World owl conference: ‘Owls are important not just for biodiversity but also for how they affect our lives’

Addressing the 6th World Owl Conference at Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) on Friday, Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forests, Maharashtra, noted that Owl species are on the schedule-I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, giving them the highest level of protection
People admire photographs of owls during an exhibition organised by Ela Foundation, during the 6th World Owl Conference, at Savitribai Phule Pune University, on Friday. The exhibition is open till December 2.(Milind Saurkar/HT Photo)
People admire photographs of owls during an exhibition organised by Ela Foundation, during the 6th World Owl Conference, at Savitribai Phule Pune University, on Friday. The exhibition is open till December 2.(Milind Saurkar/HT Photo)
Updated on Nov 30, 2019 05:31 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Pune | ByPrachi Bari

Owls are important not just for biodiversity but also for how they affect people and their lives. Owls have kept agricultural land rodent free and have kept the rodent population in control, said Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forests, Maharashtra.

Addressing the 6th World Owl Conference at Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) on Friday, Kakodkar said, “There is more to bio-diversity than protecting tigers. Our research has become more tiger centric and people don’t think beyond this charismatic animal but we have species like Owls who have their own place in the biodiversity and this conference is a platform to reach out to people.”

He noted that Owl species are on the schedule-I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, giving them the highest level of protection.

“The forest owl was thought to be extinct but in the late ‘90s, it was found in the Toranmal forest in Dhule by enivronmentalists Dr Girish Jathar and Farah Ishtiaq who started a whole new research which was further taken ahead by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). Later this Owl was also spotted in Melghat forests and also close to Mumbai in Tansa. The thing was we were not really looking at owls then but now owls are also an important part of studies worldwide. This conference is to increase the study and focus on making students exposed to the owl and its habitat. They will realise there are more species than the tiger which is glamorous to research and study,” he said.

SPPU vice chancellor Nitin Karmalkar, James Duncan, Director Discover Owls, Canada, Dr Satish Pande, Ela Foundation and researcher Yosef Reuven were among the prominent speakers at the conference.

Involve people in Owl surveys: Duncan

Research on the Owl and its habitat is the most important aspect of the four-day World Owl Conference that began in Pune today said scientist James Duncan.

Duncan, who is director of Discover Owls, a Manitoba-based organisation focusing on the conservation of owls through education and research said the world owl conference was being held for the first time in Asia. In addition to scientific papers and research on owls, he said, it was necessary to connect with people to promote the conservation of the birds. “For until people start having feelings for the bird only then can they conserve these birds and make people care for them,” he said.

He noted that while there were numerous studies on owls in Europe, not much had been heard of research in Asia. The Pune conference could throw light on that, he said.

Duncan said that involving people in Owl surveys brings amazing results with people from various places helping in gathering data, pictures and recording their sounds at night. He hoped that such a survey would be conducted in Pune.

Numerous references to owls in ancient Indian texts

Speaking on ‘Owls in Indian Culture’, Suruchi Pande, a researcher, said ancient texts need to be viewed in a different perspective as they are a treasure of knowledge and present insights into the flora and fauna of ancient times. “I have tried to identify bird references in Sanskrit, tallying them with modern ornithology and I have tried to study their existence since Vedic times,” she said.

She noted that superstitions have shrouded the cute nocturnal owls which are trapped, killed or hunted during Diwali. In Indian mythology, the owl is the vehicle of goddess Lakshmi and is a symbol of wisdom, knowledge and contemplative attitude, she said. Sanskrit provides an array of names for owls based on their habits, anatomy, body structure and calls. Ancient Indian texts have also categorised different species of owls such as the Katapru which lives in grass or holes and Hridi lochana- the Barn owl which has eyes on its heart-shaped facial disk, among others.

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