The success of “Harry Potter” has led to a surge in demand for pet owls across Asia — and it may be threatening conservation efforts, researchers have warned.
In the paper “The Harry Potter effect: The rise in trade of owls as pets in Java and Bali, Indonesia,” Vincent Nijman and K. Anne-Isola Nekaris noted that the book and movie franchise has led to a surge in demand for the island country’s owls, which are illegal to trade and in some cases endangered.
In fact, owls have become so popular as purchasable domestic pets that the birds, once known as Burung Hantu (Indonesian for “ghost birds”) are now known as Burung Harry Potter (“‘Harry Potter’ birds”), the authors noted in their July report.
Indonesia is not the only country where links have been drawn between “Harry Potter” and a rise in domesticated owls. Other Asian nations, like India and Thailand, have also been criticised by environmental groups for engaging in the illegal trade of owls.
Domestic owl ownership is concerning primarily because most people do not know how to look after the birds, said Nijman, author of the Indonesia study. “They are alive and cute when you see them on the market, but realistically they are already dead,” he told The Mail on Sunday.
According to the researchers, owls were “rarely recorded” in Indonesia’s bird markets between the 1980s to early 2000s, but since the late 2000s have become more ubiquitous. The researchers recorded 1,810 owls on sale across 20 markets between 2012 and 2016.
None of the owls found at the bird markets were on the country’s protected species list, or listed as globally threatened. But many of the birds were discovered to be wild-caught, even though Indonesia forbids the trade of all such birds.
The authors of the study stressed, however, “Harry Potter” was not the only cause for a rise in pet owls. It cited “the emergence of pet owl interest groups on Java and Bali” alongside the rise of the internet and social media.
JK Rowling, the books’ author, has not commented on the research report, but has spoken out against domesticated owls in the past.
She previously said: “If anybody has been influenced by my books to think an owl would be happiest shut in a small cage and kept in a house, I would like to take this opportunity to say as forcefully as I can: You are wrong.”
Business Insider has contacted the author for comment.
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