Is The ‘Harry Potter Effect’ A Curse For Indonesia’s Owls?

“Hedwig”.
Captive adult male snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus).
(Credit:
Peter Trimming / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Since the late 2000s, owls are increasingly sold in Indonesian bird markets

“Birds have always been popular pets in Indonesia. But owls were rarely seen in the country’s bird markets in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s,” the write authors, anthropologist Vincent Nijman and conservation biologist Anne Nekaris, both professors at Oxford Brookes University, in their study. But, they note, this abruptly changed in the late 2000s.

Eurasian scops owl (Otus scops).
Although Pigwidgeon was a Eurasian scops owl, this bird only appeared in the books. (Credit:
Wouter van der Ham / CC BY 3.0)

Harry Potter normalized keeping owls as pets

It is difficult to prove that the Harry Potter books and films are the main driver in this rise in the owl trade in Indonesia, but the authors argue that there is a link between the two.

Figure 1: Owls for sale in Indonesian bird markets along with Harry Potter book and film sales through time. (Redrawn by Bob O’Hara from data reported in doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2017.04.004)

Social media supports keeping owls as pets in Indonesia

At the same time that the books and films were released, internet access also rose sharply in Indonesia.

Is there a “Harry Potter effect”?

The authors’ most powerful argument in support of the “Harry Potter effect” is difficult to refute: owls offered for sale in Indonesian bird markets in the past were collectively known as Burung Hantu (“Ghost birds”), but since 2010, they found that owls are commonly referred to as Burung Harry Potter (“Harry Potter birds”). That said, this is not proof there is a “Harry Potter effect”.

Burung Harry Potter.
Adult male snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus). (Credit:
Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Scops owls for sale in a Bird Market in Java, Indonesia.
(doi:
10.1016/j.gecco.2017.04.004)

Growing demand for pet owls could deplete wild populations

None of the owls seen at the bird markets were recognized as being endangered. Additionally, Indonesia is viewed as having “adequate” laws protecting its wild birds — it’s illegal to trap any bird without a permit, and it’s also illegal to transport and sell birds without a permit.

Source:

Vincent Nijman, and K. Anne-Isola Nekaris (2017). The Harry Potter effect: The rise in trade of owls as pets in Java and Bali, Indonesia, Global Ecology and Conservation, 11:84–94 | doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2017.04.004

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