(OWLS) INDIA– A record number of owls have been disappearing in India and Harry Potter’s infamous owl Hedwig may be to blame. Children’s fascination with owls has been peaked–and kids are nabbing the owls as pets. Black magic rituals are also suspected as cause to sharp decreases in owl populations. – Global Animal

New York Daily News, Lauren Johnston

Children bewitched by Harry Potter have gone on an owl-napping spree – apparently trying to capture the birds as pets to emulate the fictional boy wizard.

The owl population in India has suffered big losses, and Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh says the magical boy created by British author J.K. Rowling is at least partly responsible.

In the stories, Harry keeps a snowy white bird named Hedwig as a pet.  The bird delivers the mail and acts as friend and confidante as Potter muddles through dangerous wizard adventures.

“Following Harry Potter, there seems to be a strange fascination even among the urban middle classes for presenting their children with owls,” Ramesh told BBC News.

Ramesh’s comments came on the heels of a report released by the wildlife group TRAFFIC, called “Imperiled Custodians of the Night,” which cites a sharp dip in India’s owl population.

A large number of owls also have been trapped, traded or killed in “black magic” rituals connected to the Hindu celebration of Diwali, the report said.  The birds are believed by some to have magical powers, and their body parts are used in ceremonial sacrifices.

Diwali, a five-day festival of lights, begins on Nov. 5.

The report estimated the number of owls traded or captured illegally runs in the thousands.  Owl hunting and trading is banned in India, but the report found that of 30 recorded species in the country, 15 were identifed among dealers in the bird trade.

“Diwali should be a time for celebration across our nation, not one when our wildlife is plundered to feed ignorant superstition,” Ramesh said in comments reported by the United Nations University publication OurWorld 2.0.

The Harry Potter connection surfaced after the TRAFFIC report’s author, ornithologist Abrar Ahmed, got a request from a wealthy friend to supply an owl for her son’s Potter-themed birthday party.

“This was probably one of the strangest demands made to me as an ornithologist,” Ahmed said.  “I did bring three white owls to the theme party. I drew owl pictures resembling Hedwig and hung them at appropriate vantage points on the lawn,” Ahmed recounts.

He encouraged the kids to join bird-watching groups instead of attempting to trap the owls.

The boy wizard’s stories aren’t entirely to blame for the decline in owl numbers.

The report found that in addition to being used for occult rituals, owls in India are often used by street performers, killed for meat or taxidermy or are slaughtered so their feathers and claws can be used on clothing.

More New York Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2010/11/03/2010-11-03_owl_population_threatened_by_birdnapping_kids_nabbing_them_as_pets_to_copy_harry.html#ixzz14GtM5MGa