NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - Die-hard fans of the best-selling Harry Potter stories are seriously threatening India's owl population, as demands for the ultimate wizarding accessory increase, a wildlife group says.
Potter's snow-white owl Hedwig, his trusty messenger throughout the book and film series, is being blamed by animal groups and politicians for fuelling the trade in Indian owls, as fans look to ape every aspect of their young wizard hero.
A report released this week in New Delhi by wildlife group TRAFFIC-India, which found that 15 of the country's 30 species were for sale in markets, also blames the demand for owl parts in ancient rituals for driving the illegal trade.
The report's author, Abrar Ahmed, said that his research was sparked when a friend asked him to procure an owl for her son's Harry Potter-themed birthday party.
"Although Hedwig spends much of her time in a bird cage in Harry's room, real owls do not make good pets because they need room to fly and hunt for food," said Ahmed.
"Following Harry Potter, there seems to be a strange fascination even among the urban middle classes for presenting their children with owls," India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told the BBC at the launch of the report. Traditional practitioners in India, known locally as tantriks, also demand owl bones, feathers, claws and organs, as well as the bird's blood and tears, for ceremonial rituals, the report said.
The heavily-coveted "ear-tufts" -- feathery extensions on the heads of larger owls -- are thought to grant the birds greater magical powers, and fetch a high price for the tribal communities that make a living from the trade.
One ancient practice demands the mixing of ground ear-tufts with seeds and milk, before spraying the dried powder on a person's head in order to hypnotize them.
(Editing by Kim Coghill)