Lakshadweep Islands to have more Kerala barn owls to kill rats

The Lakshadweep Administration had embarked on the ‘Pilot project on Biological Control of Rodents (Rats) by Using Barn Owls (Tyto alba) in Kavaratti Island’.

Published - August 28, 2020 07:21 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:

Three pairs of barn owls shipped to the Lakshadweep Islands from Kerala in 2019 have apparently proven such skilful slayers of pesky rats which have been ravaging the coconut plantations that the Union Territory is hoping to recruit more of the “winged assassins”.

The Lakshadweep Administration had embarked on the ‘Pilot project on Biological Control of Rodents (Rats) by Using Barn Owls (Tyto alba) in Kavaratti Island’ after studies revealed the shocking extent of damage caused by rats to the island's coconut yield and economy.

What you need to know about the stealthy barn owl

Six cute-looking nocturnal birds donated by the Thiruvananthapuram Zoo were introduced in Kavaratti in April 2019. According to a recent report by the Departments of Agriculture, and Environment and Forest, Lakshadweep, and the Krishi Vigyan Kendra under the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, initial data shows that the owls are working wonders.

So much so that the report recommends expansion of the project by recruiting more barn owls to “guard” the coconut plantations. The administration is hoping that Kerala can provide more owls. It also plans to extend the project to other islands in the archipelago.

The pilot project “has created a new hope among the public of Lakshadweep to manage the rodent menace effectively”, the report notes, adding that the birds “'are completely healthy and have adapted to the island conditions”. The barn owl population in Kavaratti, it says, has also increased with the hatching of several owlets.

The administration sees barn owls as the most effective way to decimate the rodent population, which, according to the report, runs into “'lakhs”. The islands have no other natural predators of rodents. Using chemical agents to control rats is impossible since Lakshadweep practises organic agriculture. Moreover, coconut trees on the islands are so closely planted that their fronds overlap, allowing rats to practically live atop the trees, which is the primary reason why the administration hit upon the idea of barn owls.

A sample survey in Kavaratti during April and May 2019 had put the coconut production loss due to rodent damage at 44%. The economic loss was pegged at ₹6.04 crore annually. The report also recalls an attempt by the British to introduce wood owls in Bitra for rodent control in 1875. The four pairs of birds, however, had to be recalled after the islanders dubbed them “devil birds”.

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