A Mysterious Illegal Egg Trade Imperils Kenya’s Owls

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On assignment for the National Audubon Society, Nichole Sobecki’s latest work takes a look at the illegal owl egg trade in Kenya. The raptors are already some of most persecuted birds in Africa. Now their eggs are being stolen for witchcraft — but few seem to know or care. From ancient Greece’s Owl of Athena to Harry Potter’s devoted pet Hedwig, owls have long charmed, mystified, and intrigued humans. In the contemporary West, they are often seen as symbols of wisdom. But in Africa they’re generally viewed very differently, as harbingers of evil and misfortune, or as forms taken by nefarious sorcerers. These deeply held, widespread beliefs fuel an untold number of persecution killings. The birds are also highly sought after for use in witchcraft and traditional medicine, accounting for the deaths of possibly tens of thousands of owls annually.