<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>With Diwali around the corner, people in the city are busy buying sweets, gifts, but some are also making beelines for owls. The illegal trade is thriving at Delhi’s Kabootar Bazaar’ in Chandni chowk, a ground investigation by DNA revealed.Based on a centuries-old tradition, owls make way to the Indian bird markets during Diwali to be slaughtered to make the goddess happy. Some believe that sacrificing this nocturnal bird, which is the ‘vaahan’ of Goddess Lakshmi, known to be the goddess of wealth and prosperity, makes her stay for an entire year.All the 32 species of Indian owls are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Under the Act, any killing or trading of owls is strictly prohibited and has serious risks/penalties. The bird has a varied reputation across cultures — some believe that they bring wealth and prosperity as it is associated with Goddess Lakshmi. In some cultures, it is considered to bring bad omen as well.Rameshwar Yadav, a doctor at the charity bird hospital run by the Digambar Jain community, located merely 500 metres away from the Kabootar Bazar, says that the wounded owls are often brought for medical aid. “Ahead of Diwali, the numbers go up. Three or four owls are brought every week. We hand them over to the wildlife department after treatment,”he said.After passing a few bird shops in the dingy lanes of Kabootar Bazaar, there is a shop where a young bearded man speaks about the owl trade. He confidently reveals,”Owls bring good fortune to people (and bad luck to their rivals) and thus amulets made of owl bones or nails are very high in demand in the market. I can get one to show you, but you will have to shell some big money for the trader as they come from outside the city.”On being probed, he confirmed the price, a small owl costs anywhere between Rs 4,000-7,000 and the price of a bigger one would land between Rs 11,000-14,000.Despite full awareness of the consequences, the traders are not discouraged to deal in the bird, especially during Diwali time. While every bird seller seemed reluctant to speak about it, he admitted, that they are being sold, but he doesn’t know who sells them.After further inquiry, one of the shopkeepers confirmed that this is the peak season of owl selling and if paid in advance, he can show us one.Traders from outside Delhi, mainly Kanpur, Lucknow, Meerut and parts of Uttarakhand (Nainital and Haldwani) come to this market to deal in Owls. Since ‘forest owl’ is the highest in demand, it fears the most threat. Abrar Ahmed, an ornithologist, in his report on this topic for the wildlife protection organisation TRAFFIC and WWF India in 2010, writes that there are probably at least 50 active wild-bird selling points/localities in India. Twenty-one of these are major bird markets with an estimated annual turnover of between 20,000 and 50,000 wild birds, including a trade in owls.In 2006, a case widely reported in the media stated that an owl weighing 3 kg was allegedly sold for Rs 3 million. Four wealthy people, assisted by a claim to be from Ahmedabad (Gujarat), visited well-known bird markets in northern and eastern India seeking a large owl. It is unclear how the weight of an owl is related to its magical properties, even amongst black magic practitioners, although one in Delhi suggested that the heavier the owl, the older and therefore wiser it was.

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A not so ‘Happy Diwali’ for owls in Delhi!