Owl in a day’s work: Cop’s encounter with winged evidence

February 20th, 2011 - 6:26 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sumit Kumar Singh
New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) Delhi Police constable Rohtash Kumar is used to handling tough criminals. After all, he has been doing the job for the past 22 years. So, when he was given an owl to look after, as part of a crucial piece of evidence in a case, the policeman was at his wits end. Rohtash Kumar’s job was to take care of an Indian Eagle Owl, an endangered species, that had been recovered from a self-proclaimed tantrik on Wednesday. The policeman had never seen an owl from this close earlier and had no clue what to feed it.

He ferreted out all information about the bird and its food habits.

“It came as a shock to me when I was tasked to keep an eye on the owl,” recalled Kumar.

“I had never seen an owl earlier in my life. I had read about it and seen pictures in books… but now, I had to take care of an owl!” the constable, with 22 years of service, told IANS.

“I am used to handling tough criminals. So, it was obviously an unusual task,” said the constable, who is posted at the Geeta Colony police station in east Delhi.

Police arrested the owl’s owner and self-proclaimed tantrik Shahzad Feb 11 near the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border in east Delhi. Later during a raid in Kalkaji in south Delhi Feb 16, police arrested his two associates and seized the owl. The three were booked under the Wildlife Protection Act.

Police said Shahzad had used the owl to cheat more than 500 people of lakhs of rupees.

Narrating his experience, Rohtash Kumar said that, initially, he could not help admire the feathered inmate. “I was clueless about what to do,” he said.

The investigating officer of the case said the rare owl was a “very crucial link” to the case and was to be presented in court as “evidence”.

Rohtash Kumar, who had to look after the owl for 24 hours, ensured that the caged bird remained before his eyes. He also called up colleagues to inquire about its feed.

When he came to know that the owl eats meat, he hurriedly arranged for it. He fed the bird minced mutton and chicken and water.

“I bought minced mutton and chicken and gave the bird water to drink. I was really scared while feeding it thinking that it may bite me, but things were fine,” said the constable.

The next day, the constable presented the bird before a magistrate and handed it over to an animal rescue NGO, WildLife SOS.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Romil Baniya told IANS: “Owl is a protected species and we had to hand it over to the NGO.”

“We will need it again for evidence (in court). After our case is over, the wildlife division under the ministry of environment will release the bird in the Aravalli Hills,” Baniya told IANS.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said in a report that a growing number of owls were being sacrificed during black magic rituals and were also being killed for medicinal purposes.

He also said that there was a “strange fascination” among the affluent classes in India for giving owls to their children, inspired by Harry Potter films and books that featured his pet owl, Snowy and companion Hedwig.

The minister said there had been an increase in people wanting to buy owls from illegal bird traders.

The report revealed that as many as half of the 30 species of owls in India were being caught and sold alive in markets, and recommended stricter monitoring and control on the bird trade.

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