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The Forest Owlet- Living on the Edge

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Living On The Edge- An
initiative by Tiger Protection Group to make you aware of the CRITICALLY
ENDANGERED species of the world that are walking on the brinks of
extinction today. 

This week we bring you the Forest Owlet. 

Thought to be extinct for over 100 years until its
rediscovery in 1997, the Forest Owlet is one of the rarest and least-known of
India's endemic bird species.

The Forest Owlet is a stocky, square-headed owl with
strikingly yellow eyes. It has dark grey-brown plumage, with only a faintly
spotted crown and mantle. The owlets' wings and tail are heavily banded
and contrast starkly with its white underparts, making its overall appearance
quite distinctive while in flight. The forest owlet possesses
disproportionately large talons which are put to use in catching prey up to two
times its own size. Although the male and female forest owlet are similar in
appearance, there is a slight sexual dimorphism in this species, the
female being the larger of the two.

The Forest Owlet is endemic to the Narmada River
Valley region in central India. Melghat tiger reserve is believed to be the
stronghold of this species. Although its preferred habitat is the
dry deciduous teak forests, it has previously been known to inhabit
the moist deciduous forests or dense jungles that lie at the
periphery of this range. Until its rediscovery in 1997, it was only known from
seven specimens collected during the 19th century at four localities in two
widely separated areas, north-western Maharashtra and south-east Madhya
Pradesh/Western Orissa. 

Given its rarity, identification of threats to the Forest
Owlet is difficult. Although a fragmented population of between 100 and 250
forest owlets is believed to be left in the wild. The site of its initial
discovery in 1872 in Chhattisgarh has completely been encroached by
agriculture. It is likely that other forest areas where it occurs are under
similar intense pressure.

Habitat loss, illegal tree cutting, Forest in its range is
being lost and degraded by illegal tree cutting for firewood and timber, encroachment
for cultivation, overgrazing and settlements, as well as forest fires and minor
irrigation dams are the reasons of the species being under threat. The species
is also hunted by local people and body parts and eggs are used for local
customs, such as the making of drums. Pesticides and rodenticides are used to
an unknown degree within its range and may pose an additional threat. 

The forest owlet is now protected under Schedule I of the
Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, Appendix I of the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and has been listed as Critically
Endangered by the IUCN since 1994. Hunting or trapping of the Forest Owlet in
India is strictly prohibited and making international trade in this species is
made illegal. Since its rediscovery, research has been carried out to better
understand the forest owlet and further forest losses have successfully been
prevented and due to the area's strict protection, Melghat Tiger Reserve
remains the sturdiest sanctuary, providing the perfect environment for roughly
100 individuals. An education and awareness programme on the Forest Owlet has
been initiated and a recent survey was carried out in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh
in 2010 and 2011 to identify the protection measures for the species.

Click here for detailed information
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