Barn Owls and Voodoo Rituals

September 5, 2013 | By wildlife@dmin
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By Aishuwarya Sudarshan

Bird watchers are keen on Owls, but why would a washer man or ‘dhobi’ want barn owls???

It’s not uncommon for the WSOS hotline to receive strange calls in the middle of the night, callers reporting cobras from toilet bowls and dinosaurs from back yards, but this was a first even for us! The caller on the phone spoke in hushed tones and reported a dhobi (washer man) had two barn owls in captivity and was worried that the birds may be sold off. He heard strange hissing noises from the washer man’s shop and sneaked in to investigate when the dhobi left the shop for a few minutes. To his horror, his investigation revealed two very frightened owls tied up, hidden in a cavity under the dhobi’s table. Clearly the dhobi knew he was doing something illegal and was doing his best to keep his act well hidden.

The call was recorded; there was no time to lose. Owls are often used for illegal ‘voodoo’or ‘black magic’ rituals where they are starved and slaughtered and we were seriously concerned for the birds! Seven minutes after the complaint had been received on the helpline, the team led by Arshad were on the road in a rescue vehicle, enroute to the location, really hoping the dhobi had’t packed up for the day. As we approached the dhobi’s shop to question him about the owls, we saw a man making a rapid exit into the dark, leaving some of his belongings behind. The owl captor had realized that he was going to be in trouble with the law and vanished at breakneck speed! We bent down and went under the table with a torch to check the owls. They were in a filthy box and their feet were tied with plastic rope and wire. It took us some time to gently untie the feet of the hissing birds. Clearly the washer man had plans for the owls, which boded no good for the helpless birds. We are so glad that there are good people out there who will go out of their way to help birds and animals.

Barn owls (Tyto Alba) nest in crevices in buildings and hollows of trees, often found near human settlements. Owl body parts, including skull, feathers, ear tufts, bones, blood and beak are sadly used in voodoo and black magic rituals, usually for attracting wealth as the owl is believed to be associated with ‘Lakshmi’ the goddess of wealth. The washer man had a narrow escape from the law. Such incidents only go to prove that holding or using owls has the opposite effect of lawyer’s bills, bail bonds and possibly jail time delivered to your door step instead of wealth!!

We shall be sending a report to the Delhi Forest Department and also letting the local police station know about the dhobi’s misdeeds. Their stern warnings should discourage him from such acts in future.

The two barn owls have been examined by the vets and are now under observation and care. Their unnatural and cramped captivity seems to have affected their flight muscles and it may take them a while to recover and be fit enough to fly. We hope to soon release them back in the wild where they belong.

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