Harry Potter Mania Is Putting Wild Owls at Risk in Asia

Demand for pet 'Hedwigs' has spiked illegal trade
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 15, 2017 9:45 AM CDT
Asian Wild Owls in Danger as Demand for Pet 'Hedwigs' Soars
An owl sits amid baggage inside King's Cross Station, part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley, a new park opening July 8 at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida, on Thursday, June 19, 2014.   (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

Families looking to bring the magic of Harry Potter into their homes are causing major problems among wild owls in Asia. A paper chronicling this phenomenon as the “Harry Potter effect” traces the rise in the illegal owl trade since the boy wizard’s film debut, reports the Guardian. Though direct correlation has not been established, strong circumstantial evidence suggests that the surge in demand for pet owls is attributable to the creatures’ prominence in the fictional wizarding world. Since the first Potter movie was released in 2001, the rise of owls seen in Indonesia’s bird markets rose from a few hundred to more than 13,000 in 2016. (Pet 'Hedwigs' run about $10 to $30, making owls sold there affordable to middle-class shoppers.)

“I visited Jatinegara market in Jakarta last week and within 30 minutes I had recorded 108 scops owls and 27 barn owls,” Vincent Nijman, one of the paper’s authors, notes. Other parts of Asia, including India and Thailand, are also seeing a boom in illegally captured owls, reports Business Insider. But owls, especially those taken from the wild, undergo stress and premature death when they are kept as pets. "They are alive and cute when you see them on the market, but realistically they are already dead,” Nijman tells Nature. Author JK Rowling has spoken out in the past about keeping owls as pets after a surge in abandoned owls was reported following the release of the first Potter film: “If anybody has been influenced by my books to think an owl would be happiest shut in a small cage and kept in a house, I would like to take this opportunity to say as forcefully as I can, you are wrong.” (Read more Harry Potter stories.)

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