As much as Harry Potter’s fans love him, the mystical character loved his loyal companion Hedwig, the snowy owl. And this has led to something unpleasant and unfavorable for the animal.
For the love of Harry Potter, his pet has become a must-have for his fans, and the obsession has become so huge that it has put the existence of the nocturnal being at risk.
According to a recent study, thousands of owls are being sold in the markets of Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia, where these birds are known as “Burung Harry Potter”, which means “Harry Potter Birds”.
Before JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was published in 1997, these owls were rarely seen in the bird market. Since they are very modestly priced, only Rs. 640 (USD 10), their demand is skyrocketing. But the majority of them are caught from the wild and are not used to living in a cage, many of them die soon after they are purchased.
An excerpt of the study published in journal ‘Global Ecology and Conservation’ reads,
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Hundreds of species of wild-caught birds are offered for sale in the bird markets of Java and Bali, Indonesia, to meet the demand for the largely-domestic pet and songbird trade. In the past, owls were offered only in very small numbers in these bird markets but since the release of the Harry Potter series in Indonesia in the early 2000s their popularity as pets has increased. Whereas in the past owls were collective known as Burung Hantu (“Ghost birds”), in the bird markets they are now commonly referred to as Burung Harry Potter (“Harry Potter birds”). We made a retrospective quantitative assessment of the abundance of owls in the bird markets (1979–2010) and conducted 109 surveys in 20 bird markets in 2012–2016 to quantify owls in trade. In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s owls were rarely recorded in Indonesia’s bird markets. In the late 2000s more species were offered for sale, including barn and bay owls, and larger owl species such as wood-owls, eagle-owls and fish-owls; typically 10 + owls were observed per survey. In recent years, the number of owl species increased even more, and on average we recorded 17 owls per survey, yielding a total of 1810 owls, and in >90% of the surveys owls were present. In the larger bird markets in Jakarta and Bandung typically 30 to 60 owls are on offer of up to 8 species at a time. The number of owls as a proportion of all birds in the markets increased from <0.06% prior to 2002 to >0.43% post 2008, suggesting a delayed Harry Potter effect. Over this period, common species have become cheaper and less common ones have become more expensive. The owls are largely, if not exclusively, wild-caught and are sold into the domestic pet market. The release of Harry Potter films and novels in Indonesia coincided with the rise of the Internet and social media and, with some delay, the emergence of pet owl interest groups on Java and Bali, thus preventing us to demonstrate a causal Harry Potter effect on the owl trade. The overall popularity of owls as pets in Indonesia has risen to such an extent that it may imperil the conservation of some of the less abundant species. Inclusion of owls on Indonesia’s protected species list, alongside all diurnal raptors, may be a first step to mitigate the negative effects of this emerging trend.
The researchers have expressed concern over the issue that such a rising demand of owls being kept as pets is posing a threat to their existence and may soon endanger the bird. They have admitted that their rising popularity with the fame of Harry Potter cannot be proved as such but the circumstantial evidence and the fact that they are referred to as ‘Harry Potter Birds’ give strong indications.
The researchers, Vincent Nijman and K. Anne-Isola Nekaris, have therefore urged that owls be added to the list of protected bird species of Indonesia and conveyed that they might look cute when displayed in the market but die soon after they are brought into homes.
Indonesia is not the only country where owls are being bought and sold in the market. This is happening in India, Bangkok, and Thailand as well.
Deeply concerned by the rising trade of wild and other owls for keeping them as pets, author JK Rowling says that the people who are influenced by her books to think that owls are happy to be kept in a cage are wrong. She has also said that she had never intended to portray preferences for real owls through her books.