In the ancient world, an owl was a symbol of wisdom. It was a companion and an attribute of Pallas Athena. King Arthur had a chance to look into the invisible space thanks to his owl. An owl guarded the palace of Minotaur and saved the life of young Genghis Khan. Who is going to save owls from extinction today? What efforts are required to protect people and animals from cruel magic rituals?
World Wildlife Fund is seriously concerned with the reduction of livestock of owls that live in the forests of India. As reported by the UN radio, these birds have recently become the object of hunting for the local shamans who use owl feathers, bones, meat and intestines for various magical rituals.
Extinction of owls is causing irreparable damage to the ecosystem. Owls are primary regulators of the number of rodents which are ample in India. It is estimated that an owl destroys from 5 to 20 mice, rats and voles per night. When we consider that there are approximately 50 to 80 couples of these birds in a small forest, their contribution to fighting rodents becomes obvious.
What can the disappearance of owls cause? First of all, uncontrolled reproduction of mice and rats. There are very few carnivores in the Indian forests. In contrast to Russian forests that are home to weasels, stoats and other predators that regulate the number of rodents, in tropical South Asia mice are mainly controlled by carnivorous birds and snakes. Hordes of crazed rats and mice immediately destroy seedlings and seeds of forest plants, which in turn may lead to the destruction of the jungle.
But there is more to it. Very soon, the mice will run out of space in the woods and will move to the rice fields typically located near the jungle. This will make people suffer. Rice is still a food staple for most Indians, and the country with a billion people does not have enough of it as is.
In addition, mice and rats spread various infectious diseases, the worst of which is the infamous plague. Owls, in a way, are the first barrier that separates people from the epidemic. This is the barrier that people are actively destroying with their own hands.
Despite the fact that, according to the Nature Conservation Act of India, owl hunting is forbidden in the country, the birds can still be purchased on the black market. Indians believe that owls are associated with the souls of the dead. They are afraid of living owls, but dead birds are not dangerous and supposedly serve as a guide to the underworld. (Similar beliefs exist in other countries: Central Asians believe that owl feathers protect children and animals from evil spirits, while Africans see owls as a symbol of evil. In many African dialects "owl" sounds like "witches' bird." This makes owls subject to relentless destruction, and animal welfare advocates can not do anything about it).
In addition to magical purposes, the unfortunate birds are used in street performances in India, as well as bait for larger birds-predators; parts of their bodies are used in folk medicine, and feathers and claws are used in hats manufacturing.
However, owls are not the only animals that suffer from magic rituals. Recipes of many magical potions and infusions include, for instance, blood of bats and rats, cat fur, and internal organs of various animals. This gives the green movement plenty of reasons to worry.
However, far greater concern is caused by the use of human remains in magic and healing rituals. This trend is especially prevalent in African countries. South Africa has an alternative medicine movement that uses body parts and internal organs of the dead to make various potions. For example, a magician from Limpopo (South Africa) used to brew medicine with the bones of the dead to treat mental illness. According to Interpol, today parts of corpses can be easily purchased on the black markets of Africa, Asia and even Europe.
Carrion is usually obtained by digging graves. In a recent incident, a 30-year-old Sumanto from Indonesia was sentenced to five years in prison for digging out his dead 80-year old female neighbor from the ground and eating some of her parts. The flesh-eater told police he did it to gain supernatural powers. According to many beliefs, the one who eats another human's flesh gains the best qualities that include strength, courage, etc.
To get the "raw material," wizards and their assistants often resort to murder. For example, in 1989 in Zimbabwe, magicians' assistants killed two girls and cut out parts of their intestines, tongues and genitals to make amulets for good luck. A few years ago an African witch was convicted of murdering 11-year-old boy and removing his organs. Human skin is used by African magicians to make amulets that supposedly give their owners supernatural qualities. The skin in this case should be stripped of a living human being.
Two residents of Tanzania, 25-year-old Martin Kalunga and 31-year-old Nico Benson, have murdered a 9-year-old boy, stripped off his skin while he was still alive, and then sold it to a local magician for 20,000 shillings (18 U.S. dollars).
The people of Tanzania consider the skin of albinos, who are born here more often than in other places, to be extremely valuable. According to a legend, albinos bring bad luck, so they are treated as outcasts: they are not allowed in schools and not hired, etc. Yet the charms made of the skin devoid of pigmentation are in high demand. It is believed that they protect from evil forces, help to find treasures and bring good luck to fishermen.
Authorities of developing countries are in constant struggle with obscurantism, but cannot succeed in eradicating ancient beliefs. As a result, there are brutal murders of people and animals, as well as numerous incidents involving desecration of graves.
Meanwhile, even if we were to put the ethical side of the matter aside, "healing" properties of the remains are more than doubtful. Consumption of intestines of the deceased or permanent contact with an amulet made from human remains bring about the risk of poisoning or catching diseases that the deceased suffered from.
This situation requires combined efforts of social, political, environmental and health organizations. This includes not only strong-arm tactics of pressure on population, but also a broad educational outreach.
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