Black magic practitioners maiming or killing hapless birds and animals as part of their rituals has been on the rise in Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Gujarat. Animal activists say implementation of the Wildlife Protection Act is key, and punishment given to the criminals involved must be severe enough to deter them against committing such atrocities
The two men came bearing money and a sense of entitlement to the seemingly humble abode of the black magician. As they sat before him surrounded by lemons, flickering lamps, sindhoor and other paraphernalia, the so-called sorcerer looked at them enquiringly. After speaking for 10 minutes, the men nodded, got up and left. They returned after two hours with more money and a sense of apprehension. When they walked into the magician’s house, they found a tiny slender loris in a cage next to a pair of scissors and some knives. It was to be maimed as part of a black magic ritual. Sadly, this is not an uncommon scene and slender lorises are not the only victims.
People have many reasons to resort to black magic. Some approach such so-called magicians want to become political bigwigs, others want their children to do well in life, and yet so many want to hinder the livelihood of their enemies. But the innocent victims which bear the brunt of brutality are neither the former’s enemies nor opponents, but the animals and birds that are used in the heinous processes.
The animals either killed or amputated include slender lorises, turtles, lizards, red sand boa and the birds include barn owls, fish owls, rock eagle owls, great horned owls and black kites. According to experts, most cases have been discovered in states such as Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Gujarat. However, lack of official records and studies make it difficult to find comprehensive statistics on the same, with press reports of rescues and rehabilitation being the only easily accessible information.
“I find a lot of slender lorises brought to my table, most of them with injuries that seem like they have been inflicted with a knife or scissor or something sharp. We have never been sure if they were victims of black magic. But the injuries are very precise, which imply these are cases of black magic,” Roopa Satish, veterinarian, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (WRRC) said. “The slender loris that was recently brought to me died on my table. The person who brought it to me said he found it near Malleswaram (Bengaluru), which is a rich belt comprising politicians and upper class residents. I have a theory. If a poor labourer opts for such practices and his funds are limited, the sorcerer may use sindhoor or lemons. If you have more money, he might use an egg or a chicken. You have money in lakhs? That’s when you find slender lorises and owls and other animals being used for rituals.”
TRAFFIC, the wildlife animal monitoring service, released an advisory last Diwali warning law enforcers of a “possible increase in trafficking and owl sacrifices throughout the country and calls for stronger wildlife law enforcement actions to curb illegal trade and trafficking. These birds are poached for their bones, talons, skulls, feathers, meat and blood, which are then used in talismans, black magic and traditional medicine.” Diwali, claim these practitioners, is the most auspicious time for sacrifices to trick customers.
The cases have been gruesome and atrocious. Anand Gowda, who works for People for Animals in Bengaluru came across a kite on March 11, with its upper beak removed and talons cut. “Politicians and upper class people have been known to indulge in black magic which results in such cruelties. We get an average of 2-4 kites per six months. Depending on the bird’s condition, we either release it to the wild after treating it or take care of it in our lifetime care system.”
Sumanth Bindhumadhav of Humane Society International, India, said, “In the past 8-10 months, we have rescued about 42 to 44 owls, mostly from south Indian states. We have also rescued quite a few slender lorises that were being used for black magic. Uttar Pradesh has always seen the highest number of owl trafficking, while for slender loris, it’s the south Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.”
Bindhumadhav also talked about a new trend among traffickers. “We have seen a rise in the illegal trade of pangolins struck by lightning. Traffickers have been rigging up a tester used by electricians in such a manner that it lights up no matter what surface it touches. Therefore, it also lights up when it touches a pangolin struck by lightning. This has led to a theory among the unsuspecting masses that these pangolins have the ability to store electricity. We are not sure of the end purpose of this but they are definitely not being used as pets. These incidents have been occurring for the past 6-8 months and the animals could have been used for black magic. We have had about 5-6 reports in Karnataka alone. Pangolin trade is the highest in Madhya Pradesh and we are seeing a rise in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.”
Will these animals ever get respite from such brutalities? Roopa believes, “The police might have to conduct undercover operations to arrest these people and bring them to justice. Another method is to create awareness among people.”
When asked about measures taken by their organisations to tackle such practices, Darshan Desai of Prayas Environment Charitable Trust, Surat, said, “We had a massive campaign to raid and confiscate the materials or animals used in some flea market areas and had exemplary legal cases. Proper news coverage was given to create awareness. From then on, we hold many awareness programs during festivals to spread the message among common people not to perform or participate in such activities. Our latest confiscation was last month when three turtles were saved and a lady arrested.”
HIS, said Bindhumadhav, runs various campaigns against trade of wild animals and owls, which are used extensively in black magic and traditional medicines. HSI also has ground reporters who give them first-hand information about such trade. “We work with law enforcement agencies to help rehabilitate these animals. We also train the judiciary and prosecutors to ensure maximum punishment for the perpetrators, which will serve as a deterrent. The wildlife protection act is quite enough in itself. The problem lies in implementation. Criminals do not get punishment severe enough due to which such practices are rampant.”