GANDERBAL — The Department of Wildlife Protection J&K has warned of strict action as per law involving imprisonment as well as a fine against anyone involved in capturing owls or any kind of hunting activity. The notice in this regard came following the reports of several incidents of alleged capturing of owls from some parts of the valley over the past month.
After a few photographs of the owl species, especially the Barn Owl and Tawny Owl, being captured surfaced on social media, the Wildlife department issued a notice warning that capturing, coursing, snaring, trapping, driving or baiting of any wild animal, including wild birds, comes under the definition of “hunting” which is a punishable wildlife offence under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
“A person committing such an offence shall on conviction be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to 20,000 rupees or both,” the department warned.
Anyone coming across a wild bird which has been accidentally injured or seems to be in distress should not attempt to handle or rescue the bird on his/her own but immediately contact the Wildlife department on the phone number 9796171787 or through email email@example.com, according to the notice.
Why do people catch owls?
Dr Bilal Nasir Zargar, a wildlife biologist, while talking to the news agency KNO, said, “There is a myth in Kashmir that keeping an owl’s nails wards off evil. People catch them and cut their nails off and they eventually die, due to which the population of owls has declined drastically.”
Owls play a very important role in controlling the rodent population. They are phenomenal in pest control and help maintain the food chain. Owls also get rid of diseased rodents and stop the spread of zoonotic diseases.
Dr Bilal said the warning by the Wildlife Protection Department is not enough because there are some species of owls out there that are threatened at this point in time and they may not be able to survive for much longer due to hunting or their habitat being destroyed. “As a result of this, they are struggling to be able to survive out there in the wild. It isn’t too late though to help these owl species to have a future. However, in order for that to happen, we need to acknowledge what the problems really are, then we can be a part of the solution and not the problem,” he said.
What can be done to save them?
The wildlife botanist said that critical conservation of habitat with prior research and social awareness by educating the public about an owl’s role in the environment can save them. “Building social awareness against superstition will help implement stringent legal action against poaching and trading. There is no place for them to nest and breed due to rapid urbanisation. Their habitat must be protected, and their nesting places saved. We need to study them to learn such details,” he suggests.
Dr Bilal Nasir, who holds a Doctorate degree in Botany, was the first to record a long-eared owl in 2019 at Manasbal. He has been observing the behaviour of owls for the last five years and is one of the most famous and passionate nature photographers in Kashmir. “I enjoy taking photos of birds and animals in jungles and forests. I have travelled extensively to many national and international sanctuaries,” he told KNO.
Dr Bilal has educated and inspired thousands of people towards the conservation of nature and has received many awards.
Another expert, while talking to KNO, said it is a myth that owls can rotate their heads 360 degrees. “They can actually turn their necks 135 degrees in either direction which gives them 270 degrees of the total movement,” he said, adding, “Not all species of owls are nocturnal. Many times you might just spot an owl in the day peeping out from its home on the tree. When there is a shortage of food, owls may hunt at any time during the day. They are carnivorous and eat rodents, small and medium-sized mammals, insects, fish, and other birds. Sometimes, they even eat smaller owls.”
Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Wildlife Department, Ifshana said owls are a kind of scheduled species and capturing these birds breaches the Wildlife Protection Act. “The recent reports suggest that only two owl-capturing incidents took place following which an advisory was issued for their protection,” she told KNO, adding, “Capturing owls is a severe crime. Anybody involved in it will be held under the relevant sections of law and a case will also be filed against such a person.”