The Hedwig effect: Harry Potter blamed for endangering owls
Thursday 04 November 2010
In the years since he was a callow pupil at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter and his associated world have known no shortage of controversy.
There have been claims the young wizard has promoted witchcraft, that his creator has made millions of pounds from ordinary prose and even unfounded allegations that she may have committed plagiarism.
But perhaps one of the most unlikely allegations was made this week by India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, who suggested Harry Potter may be at least partly responsible for the decline of the country's owl population.
"Following Harry Potter, there seems to be a strange fascination even among the urban middle classes for presenting their children with owls," he reportedly said. The comments about the influence of Harry Potter, who is accompanied in many of his adventures penned by JK Rowling by a snowy owl called Hedwig, came after the release of a report highlighting the threat to animals in India.
The report by the wildlife group Traffic, also cited the dark arts of magic as being responsible for the owls' decline but did not blame Harry Potter, instead suggesting that a number of owls were being killed, trapped and traded for traditional rituals.
"While the exact number of owls traded each year in the countrywide is unknown, it certainly runs into thousands... There are anecdotal reports of owls becoming rare throughout India due to loss of suitable habitat, especially old-growth forests," it said.
"The sacrifice of owls on auspicious occasions appears to be a regular practice and Traffic warns of a possible increase in owl trade and sacrifice around Diwali, the festival of light, which this year is [tomorrow].
"Shaman or black magic practitioners, prescribe the use of owls and their body parts such as skull, feathers, ear tufts, claws, heart, liver, kidney, blood, eyes, fat, beak, tears, eggshells, meat and bones for ceremonial rituals."
The report, which is supported by WWF India and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, says that half of India's 30 species of owl can be found on sale in markets.
The UK publisher of the Harry Potter books, Bloomsbury, has yet to comment on Mr Ramesh's claim.
Elsewhere, others have suggested he might be right. "It's likely, because when people get entranced, it pushes their curiosity," said Kartick Satyanarayan, founder of the NGO Wildlife SOS. "I cannot say for sure but I think it's a factor. People believe there is a mystical aura to that particular bird."
According to reports, all of India's owl species are protected under a 1972 law, while an amendment bans the trade, hunting and transport of the creatures. Despite this, demand is said to be such that owls have even disappeared from zoos. The environment minister urged people to help safeguard the country's owls.
"Diwali should be a time for celebration across our nation, not one when our wildlife is plundered to feed ignorant superstition," he said. "India's wildlife already faces many pressures; the additional burden of being killed out of ignorance and fear is not one that has any place in our modern society. Owls are as important to our ecosystem as tigers are."
Leftover coffee 'can help fight global warming'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Big Six energy companies have 'quietly abandoned their green electricity tariffs'
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down
Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
- 3 Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
- 4 Refugee crisis: Aylan's life was full of fear - in death, he is part of 'humanity washed ashore'
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 200,000 back our campaign
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company produces a wide ra...
£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...
£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...