The J&K Department of Wildlife Protection warned of strict measures under the law involving imprisonment and fines against anyone involved in the capture of owls or any type of hunting activity.
The notice to this effect came after reports of several incidents of suspected owl takings from parts of the valley over the past month.
After some photos of the owl species, especially the Barn Owl and the Barn Owl, appeared on social media, the wildlife department issued an advisory warning to catch, run, trap, trap, drive or bait any wild animal, including wild birds, falls under the definition of “hunting”, which is a punishable offence against wildlife under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
“A person who commits such an offence “shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment for a term that may extend to three years or with a fine that may extend to Rs 20,000 or both,” the department warned.
Anyone who comes across a wild bird that has been accidentally injured or appears to be in danger should not attempt to handle or rescue the bird on their own, but should immediately contact the wildlife department on 9796171787 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org, the notice says.
Why do people catch owls?
Dr. Bilal Nasir Zargar, a wildlife biologist, while speaking to the Kashmir News Observer (KNO) news agency, said: “There is a myth in Kashmir that keeping an owl’s claws wards off evil. People catch them and clip their nails and eventually they die, so the owl population has dropped dramatically.”
Owls play a very important role in controlling the rodent population. They are phenomenal at pest control and help maintain the food chain. Owls also get rid of sick rodents and stop the spread of zoonotic diseases.
Dr. Bilal said that the wildlife protection department’s warning is not enough because there are some species of owls that are threatened at the moment and may not be able to survive much longer due to hunting or destruction of their habitats.
“As a result of this, they are struggling to survive in the wild. However, it is not too late to help these owl species have a future. However, for it to happen, we need to recognize what the problems really are, then we can be part of the solution and not the problem,” he said.
What can be done to save them?
The wildlife botanist said critical habitat conservation with prior research and social awareness by educating the public about an owl’s role in the environment can save them. “Raising social awareness against superstition will help implement strict legal action against poaching and trade. There is no place for them to nest and breed due to rapid urbanization. Their habitat must be protected and their nesting sites saved. We need to study them to know those details,” he suggests.
Dr. Bilal Nasir, who has a PhD in Botany, was the first to record a long-eared owl in 2019 in Manasbal. He has been observing the behaviour of owls for the last five years and is one of Kashmir’s most famous and passionate nature photographers.
“I enjoy taking photos of birds and animals in jungles and forests. I have travelled extensively to many national and international sanctuaries,” he said.
Dr. Bilal has educated and inspired thousands of people towards nature conservation and has received numerous awards.
Capturing these birds is in breach of Wildlife Protection Act
Another expert said that it is a myth that owls can turn their heads 360 degrees. “In fact, they can turn their necks 135 degrees in any direction, which gives them 270 degrees of total movement,” he said, adding: “Not all owl species are nocturnal. Many times you may see an owl during the day peeking out from its tree home”.
He further added “when there is a shortage of food, owls may hunt at any time of the day. They are carnivorous and feed on 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 species of scheduled species and capturing these birds is in breach of the Wildlife Protection Act.
Recent reports suggest that only two owl-catching incidents occurred, after which an advisory was issued for their protection,” she said, adding: “Owl catching is a serious crime. Anyone who participates in it will be subject to the relevant sections of the law and a case will also be brought against that person.
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