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Extinction watch: Undone by fraud, deforestation


The Forest Owlet

This criticallyendangeredspecies of Owlet is found in the shrinking forests of central India. Listed as endangered on the IUCNRed Listsince 2018, thepopulationis estimated at less than 1,000 mature individuals.

The forest owlet is small and stocky. It has a rather unspotted crown and heavily banded wings. It may look like a docile creature, but this bird wields ridiculously huge talons for its size.

It uses these to snare prey animals up to even twice its own size. Its most distinctive feature is its whitish underside. The owlet preys on lizards, skinks and frogs. The bird is diurnal (active during the day) and crepuscular (active during twilight hours). It actually loves sunlight. Male owlets sometimes consume their own offspring before they are fully fledged.

A member of the typical owl familyStrigidae, the Forest Owlet was first described in 1873. As it was not sighted after 1884, it was considered extinct for many years. Searches in the locality mentioned on the label of the last collected specimen failed, and it turned out that the specimen had been stolen from theBritish Museumby Richard Meinertzhagen and resubmitted with a label bearing false locality information.

Col Richard Meinertzhagen, was a celebrated British soldier, intelligence officer and ornithologist. But the discovery of stolen museum bird specimens he resubmitted as original discoveries raised serious doubts on the veracity of ornithological records he claimed. In 1997, the owlet was rediscovered by Pamela Rasmussen.

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