Skeptic News: Owl sacrifice mars Hinduism's biggest holiday

From: Global Post

As the rest of India celebrates Hinduism’s festival of lights on Tuesday, unscrupulous witch doctors known as “tantriks” will sneak into the country’s dark corners to kill some of its rarest and most majestic birds of prey.

It’s India’s secret shame — unknown even to most devout Hindus. But the religion’s most important holiday, Diwali, marks a supposedly auspicious time for the sacrifices of threatened and even critically endangered owls — a rite that some believe can win favor from the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.

“You take the leading newspapers of today itself, there will be 50, 20, 30 ads from tantriks advertising remedies of almost all kinds,” said Abrar Ahmed, an expert on the trafficking of birds.

“When people can be milked out, these tantriks will prescribe something which is difficult to get — they’ll say an owl of 5 kgs or a certain weight or certain size. There is where they make money…. They are the ones creating a demand.”

India is home to 32 species of owls, 13 of which Ahmed discovered being sold as part of the illegal trade in wild birds. Most, if not all, are included on International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List” of threatened species, while at least one, the forest owlet, is critically endangered, according to “Imperilled Custodians of the Night,” a report Abrar wrote for Traffic in 2010.

The most common species sold is the spotted owlet, which has adapted to living in cities and is therefore in little danger of dying out. But threatened species like the brown fish owl can also be found for sale, and the threatened rock eagle owl is the “most preferred” by witch doctors — a bad omen for its future survival.

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