Owls fall victim to money-making superstition

Driven by superstition, owls in India are killed and injured in the belief that it will bring people personal gain. Every year during this season, owls are found injured across the state of Bihar. Dr Ajit Kumar, veterinary doctor, Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park, popularly known as Patna zoo, said, "During Dussehra, we found two injured owls, who had one wing damaged and did not eat or drink. In fact, one owl was found at the zoo gate itself."

He added, "This is not the first time it has happened. During this season, we find injured owls every year. Zoo workers say this has been happening for long." Asked about the reason, Dr Kumar said, "People believe that sacrificing an owl or offering an owl's blood brings prosperity, hence they are found in an injured state mostly between Dussehra and Kali Puja." Owl is considered the vehicle of goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.

Navin Kumar, a member of the Indian Bird Conservation Network and deputy general manager, Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation, said, "Barn and spotted owls are found in abundance in Bihar. Since barn owl mostly lives near human habitat, it is an easy prey." Incidentally, hunting and trade in owls of all Indian species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Baba Bhavya Nath of Mahavir Mandir, Patna Junction, said, "Between the 11th and 14th centuries, many "Vaam bhaagi" techniques were popularized by "tantriks" among tribals and illiterate people.

"Sadly, many such superstitions continue even today." He added, "The 'folk practice' of sacrificing owls for acquiring wealth and prosperity is not unheard of." Another superstition such as walking a tortoise in the room where money is kept is also considered to bring affluence during Diwali. Nath said, "There are many other beliefs and tricks that involve use of different animals for personal gain. Social thinkers have protested such tricks but they just continue."