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Is Harry Potter Hurting Owls?

Decline in India linked to the popular books & movies

While the Harry Potter books and movies have been wildly successful, they’ve also sometimes been accused of promoting poor values – like witchcraft. Take those complaints or leave them, but now comes a concern of a different kind: Officials in India say the stories may be dangerous to owls.

“Owls are as important to our ecosystem as tigers are.”
-Environment minister Jairam Ramesh

India’s owl population is in decline, and the country’s minister for the environment, Jairam Ramesh, says Harry Potter mania is not helping.

In J.K. Rowling’s books, Harry receives a pet owl, Hedwig, who becomes the young hero’s loyal companion and delivers messages and parcels.

A report released in New Delhi by the wildlife group TRAFFIC-India finds that 15 of the country’s 30 species of owl are available for sale and points a finger at the Harry Potter craze, as well as to the use of owls in “traditional” quasi-religious rituals in some parts of India.

The report’s author, Abrar Ahmed, says that his research was sparked when a friend asked him to procure an owl for her son’s Harry Potter-themed birthday party. He discovered a whole trend in which parents buy owls as special treats for children’s birthday parties.

“Although Hedwig spends much of her time in a bird cage in Harry’s room, real owls do not make good pets because they need room to fly and hunt for food,” said Ahmed.

Minister Ramesh is concerned that the Harry Potter books are fueling an old tradition of owl sacrifice. “India’s wildlife already faces many pressures,” he said. “The additional burden of being killed out of ignorance and fear is not one that has any place in our modern society. Owls are as important to our ecosystem as tigers are.”

Other Indian wildlife protection groups are echoing the minister’s concerns. “When people get entranced, it pushes their curiosity,” said Kartick Satyanarayan, founder of Wildlife SOS. “People believe there is a mystical aura to that particular bird.”