Environment awareness isn’t just limited to celebs crowing oft-repeated slogans. As Tamil Nadu voted for the 234-member Assembly on Tuesday (April 6), many people saw a group, headed by a woman, sporting an owl-imprinted white T-shirt, trying to raise awareness about the much-maligned bird.
The group first went to the Kaliappan Goundenpudur polling booth in Valparai (reserved) constituency and voted. First duty done, V Kirubanandhini (33) and her group of youngsters then made themselves available for spirited discussions on the significance of the owl.
Kirubanandhini recently completed her doctorate on the levels of metal contamination found in dead birds. She is an avid birdwatcher from Pollachi, in Coimbatore district.
Born and brought up in a village, she is aware why the locals have an aversion towards owls. They believe that seeing an owl or hearing its sound is a bad omen. The popular misconception has led people to kill the owls or chase away the bird from its habitat or fell the tree where the bird nests.
She says India is home to about 35 species of owls. The bird lives in a variety of habitats ranging from deserts to forests to mountains. In addition to bearing the brunt of aversion, these species are being poached for black magic and other superstitious rituals.
TRAFFIC, an organisation working towards the prevention of illegal wildlife trades, said in its 2010 report ‘Imperiled Custodians of the Night’ that more than 1,000 owls belonging to at least 13 species were recorded in illegal trade between 1992 and 2008. Of the 13 species, five species that are commonly traded are rock eagle-owl, brown fish-owl, dusky eagle-owl, Indian scops-owl and mottled wood-owl.
Once a student of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), Kirubanandhini tries to create awareness among the people by explaining why the bird species should not be killed or disturbed.
“The owls are nocturnal and they play an important role in the ecosystem as they prey on rodents and other pests. That’s why these species are called friends of farmers,” she said.
“Today we explained to the people the importance of conserving the owl. The bemused people were surprised by our attire but approached us with their queries,” Kirubanandhini said.