It was on June 25, 2019, that Barn Owls flew the skies of Lakshadweep for the first time. The first pair of Barn Owls, which was considered an ill omen by the island people, was released in the Island in June as part of preserving the coconut yield in the union territory. The island that has been seeing a drastic fall in the number of coconuts due to an increased population of rats has shipped from Kerala three pairs of Barn Owls, which is hoped to bring a solace to the rodent menace.
An island that had many stigmas over owls has now accepted the reality that Barn Owls can get rid of the rats. The signs of a good yield have started to show up, according to the Island authorities.
First of its kind project using birds to get rid of rats, Environment Secretary and Chief Wildlife Warden of Lakshadweep Damodhar A T said that the results were being seen in the Island. “The people once used to have some misconceptions about owls. This has changed now and they are much cooperative.”
Noting that project in Kavarathi was a success, he said that there was also good news that one of the owls has even laid eggs. “This means that the owls have completely accustomed to the island’s environment,” he said. Damodharan also said that they needed about 20 more pairs of Barn Owls for all the islands. “Once we have these numbers, then I hope that the issue of rodent is solved in the islands,” he said.
On the concept of the project, he said that it was two years old. “With a decision not to use chemicals for killing the rats, we thought of an organic way and this concept developed. Way back, the British had tried to use the same to get rid of the rodents. In 1875, they had brought the birds to the island but had to withdraw because of resistance from the islanders as these birds were considered to be a bad omen,’ he said.
Further explaining on making use of Barn Owls, he said that rodents were earlier got rid of using traditional methods of rat hunting. But this traditional method had been facing many difficulties with the shortage of climbers. “This also led us to think in a different way of how to get rid of the rodents and the present organic way was evolved,” he said.
Once the idea was conceived, he said they held discussions with the people as well as all the stakeholders. “The island is declared as an organic region. We did not want to pollute the island using chemicals. We created awareness among the people and now they have accepted this new programme,’ he said.
Once the project was evolved, a team with Veterinary Scientist incharge of Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kavaratti Abdul Gafoor and former Assistant Forest Veterinary Officer (Periyar Tiger Reserve) along with other Officers of the departments of Forest/ Agriculture was constituted.
Once the approval was got from the authorities, the aviary for the Owls was constructed inside the Lakshadweep State Medicinal Plants Garden. The birds were then shipped from Kerala and reached Kavaratti on April 5. The owls were kept in aviary for 82 days. Before the birds were released in the open, public awareness programs were held in the island for almost three days.
MONITORINGApart from the Team of Veterinary Doctors, two Trained and skilled laborers continuously monitor the Owls. In the beginning, the birds visited the Aviary in between. In course of time, these birds rarely visited the aviary and fed on the rats in the trees. They were seen to be using old buildings and abandoned places in the island, which means that they are now accustomed to the surroundings.