The ‘Harry Potter Effect’ Caused An Increase in Illegal Owl Trading

Harry Potter made quite the impression on audiences around the world — and is likely the reason for the drastic increase of illegal owl trading in Indonesia, according to a recent study.

Hedwig, Harry Potter’s snowy owl, and Pigwidgeon, Ron Weasley’s common scops owl, as well as a myriad of others kept as pets by characters at Hogwarts have apparently left avid fans wanting feathered friends of their own.

The popularity of animals portrayed in movies often correlates with an increase in these same animals being kept as pets. For example, the release of the Disney film 101 Dalmatians sparked an increase in ownership of purebred dogs in the US and when Finding Nemo became popular, sales of clownfish increased. Although the overall rise in numbers may be delayed for a period of time, the relationship is quite discernible.

The “Harry Potter effect”, as scientists have dubbed it, is the reason behind the soaring captive owl numbers in Indonesia — and the impact could be seen as early as 2010.

Image: Alexandre Dulaunoy, Flickr

Birds have always been a popular pet in Indonesia, but bird markets in Java and Bali did not regularly include owls for sale until recently. A recent study published in Science Direct shows a huge rise in the number of owls in marketplaces based on surveys performed between 2012 and 2016.

Owls are now a hot commodity. According to Mongabay, at least 12,000 scops owls (Otus spp.) are being sold in Indonesia’s bird markets each year in addition to a variety of larger species.

Study authors explain, “Whereas in the past owls were collectively known as Burung Hantu (“Ghost birds”), in the bird markets they are now commonly referred to as Burung Harry Potter (‘Harry Potter birds’).”

As most of these animals are being caught in the wild, conservationists are worried about potential long-term effects on owl populations.

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