Mumbai: Rare forest owlet in danger from tribals

Birdwatchers claim some tribals are using slingshots to kill the critically endangered owlet and other birds at Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary; say the forest department should increase patrolling

The recent sighting of the forest owlet, a critically endangered bird according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list at Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS), has increased the number of birdwatchers going there. But some birdwatchers who visited the sanctuary last week feel that there is a threat to this rare bird and others from a few tribals who are allegedly killing them using slingshots. The bird lovers feel the forest department should increase patrolling to protect the birds.

The forest owlet has been seen in the Satpura range in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh
The forest owlet has been seen in the Satpura range in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh

The forest owlet was recently spotted in TWS in Palghar district, and Tansa has been designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) based on earlier studies carried out by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

The incident
Last Sunday, birdwatchers Nikhil Savant, Harishchandra Mhatre and another friend, all from Thane, had gone to Tansa, especially to try and catch a glimpse of the forest owlet. They happened to spot the rare owlet and other birds, but noticed two tribals roaming with slingshots.

Savant said he stopped the two youngsters and asked them why they were carrying the slingshots. “First, they were shocked and did not have anything to say. But, one of them tried to fool us saying they were using them to protect their cattle, which they had brought for grazing. I told them then they should carry a stick in this case, but their behaviour made us realise that the slingshots were being used to kill birds. We snatched the slingshots, after which they ran away,” said Savant.

Killing birds for food and ‘black magic’ is a common practice among some tribals. The trio said they even explained to the young boys that if they were caught red-handed killing the birds, they would land in big trouble and may have to face strict action.

The nature lovers feel there is a need for stringent patrolling in the area, and that the forest department should involve the tribal community in protecting these birds.

“I feel that in order to protect the birds, the forest department needs to organise awareness sessions and train the young tribal boys so that they can earn a livelihood by working as guides for tourists who come to Tansa for birdwatching,” Savant added.

Attempts to contact officials from the forest department proved to be in vain.

In order to protect birds from poachers, the forest department needs to take an initiative and make Tansa an ecotourism zone, which will also create job opportunities for the tribals, as they can be employed as guides. I, too, feel that in order to keep a tab on the activities of people who roam in the forest, the forest department should regularly patrol the region.
— Nayan Khanolkar
Naturalist and wildlife photographer

The Forest Owlet
The forest owlet (Athene Blewitti) is around 23 cm long, and has a plain crown and heavily banded wings and tails. It has a darkgrey-brown nape withfaint white spots.

It has broadly banded, blackish-brown white wings and tail, with a broad white tail tip. The rest of the under parts of the bird are white. 

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