Location: forests of central India
Thought to be extinct for over 100 years until its rediscovery in 1997, the forest owlet is one of the rarest and least-known of India’s endemic bird species. The forest owlet possesses disproportionately large talons which are put to use in catching prey up to two times its own size. A strictly diurnal species, the forest owlet can often be easily spotted sunning itself on some of the barer branches in its habitat. It will often store prey items in hollow tree trunks.
A fragmented population of between 100 and 250 forest owlets is believed to be left in the wild. The deciduous forest on which the entire population relies has been severely exploited, and the reduction of this habitat is thought to be the predominant strain on the surviving population. The degradation of the habitat is the result of local illegal tree felling for firewood and timber, and also to provide space for farming and for new settlements. The forest owlet faces a serious threat as a result of local superstitions. The eggs are collected by tribal people to bring luck in gambling and the animal itself is killed since owls are locally renowned to “feed on human souls”. Killing a young owl is widely considered to boost fertility.
Since its rediscovery, research has been carried out to better understand the forest owlet. At the site of its rediscovery, further forest losses have successfully been prevented and, due to the area’s strict protection, Melghat Tiger Reserve remains the sturdiest sanctuary, providing the perfect environment for roughly 100 individuals. A program has been initiated that aims to increase the education and awareness of the locals about their environment. A range of forest management policies should be implemented in the forest owlet’s range, including restricting illegal woodcutting, controlling the use of pesticides, and protection measures for known nesting sites.
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