That old black magic: Harry Potter blamed for owl decline in India
Owls are disappearing from Indian forests at an alarming rate, the country’s environmentalists say, so who do you suppose officials have determined to be responsible? You guessed it: Harry Potter.
Children in India love J.K. Rowling’s novels about the boy wizard, says Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, leading middle-class youngsters to beg their parents for pet owls.
In the books, Harry has a white owl named Hedwig, though it’s less a pet than it is a magical companion who ferries long-distance messages, carrier-pigeon style.
“Following Harry Potter, there seems to be a strange fascination even among the urban middle classes for presenting their children with owls,” Ramesh said earlier today according to the BBC.
It’s hard to gauge the veracity of news from halfway around the world, especially when reports mix conflicting elements — in this case Harry Potter and owls as pets plus traditional black magic and animal sacrifice. Skepticism seems to be in order.
I mean, after decades of pressure on owl populations, mostly due to habitat loss, we’re now going to blame the decline of the endangered species on kids who want to imitate a fictional character?
Still, there does seem to be at least a hint of substance to the story. Wildlife expert and ornithologist Abrar Ahmed brought the Potter connection to light, saying he received a call a few months ago from a friend who wanted to know how to obtain a live owl.
“My friend said that she wanted an owl as the party theme is Harry Potter,” said Ahmed. ‘The illegal trade in owls runs undercover and there is a strong network.”
Harry’s getting the blame for India’s owl problems even though there’s a longstanding tradition of owls sacrificed in “black magic rituals,” which Ahmed calls “ignorant superstitions.” For my American audience, let me hasten to say: This is Indian traditional black magic, and has nothing to do with the fictional “magic” depicted in the Harry Potter books.
Indian officials are particularly concerned about the upcoming Diwali festival, a main event on the Hindu and Sikh calendars that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
“Diwali should be a time for celebration across our nation, not one when our wildlife is plundered to feed ignorant superstition,” says Ramesh.
Yet Wildlife SOS, an animal rescue group, reports receiving numerous calls inquiring as to the suitability of owls as pets.
“Owls are commonly poached for black magic,” says Kartrick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS. “But, yes, people have become curious after reading Harry Potter books, where mystical energy of owls has been shown.”
Ultimately, it’s impossible to tell from here how much Harry’s fans may contribute to the owl problem in India. Not much, I’d guess, though getting “Harry Potter” in a headline is always an attention-getter.
But on balance it’s a good thing Indian officials are taking threats to endangered species seriously, no matter how late in hthe day it may be.
Today I’m looking for anything, anything at all, to be optimistic about.