Witches spell doom to bird of omen

 Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has a new headache in cracking a faceless group behind a unique poaching.

Its officers have the challenge of tackling a secret group trading in Owls’ eggs. The group is believed to have connections with witchcraft and the underworld.

Dealers and brokers in the eggs are roaming the country, hunting for the eggs in a trade that seems to fetch a good fortune.

Conservationists fear the illegal merchants are to blame for extinction of the bird species in Naivasha, Nyahururu, Kajiado, Laikipia plains, and Meru National Park, among other areas.

The trade is flourishing amid efforts by private conservationists to resuscitate the species especially in Nyeri County. Owl is considered a harbinger of doom by many African societies. It is, therefore killed on sight.

The bird has been listed as among the rare species in the world.

Last week, a source told The Underworld that he had been promised Sh100,000 by a woman who intended to buy two eggs.

The eggs are believed to be used in witchcraft. The woman, who said she works with the Rwandan Embassy, said she had a sick daughter when witchdoctors demanded that she presents the eggs so that he could cure the child.

Owl eggs are usually white and spherically shaped. The eggs are laid at intervals of one to three days and do not hatch at the same time, hence the wide variation in the size of siblings.

Lucrative deals

The Underworld established that the dealers are spread across Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret, Nyahururu and Nanyuki.

Last week, dealers posing as a seller told this writer three eggs would fetch Sh20,000 each.

Surprisingly, the dealers are giving specifications on how to handle the eggs.

One of them, who identified himself as Gitonga, gave strict instructions against holding the eggs with bare hands.

And the dealers seem ready to travel long distances to ensure they handle the eggs themselves.

“Just check whether there are some eggs and then call me. I will come over so that we ensure they are handled properly,” said Gitonga.

Even though he declined to disclose where he intended to take the eggs, Gitonga told this writer that the eggs are used in treatment of various cancerous diseases.

“Hiyo ni dawa mzuri sana ya cancer,” he said.

These developments now raises concerns over the existence of the bird since the merchants could easily deplete eggs laid by the birds and lead to a slow-extinction.

Our sources intimated that the merchants could be taking the eggs to Tanzania, where they are on high demand from witch doctors.

Others have outlets in North Eastern Kenya, Dubai in the Middle East and South Africa. The dealers are using unemployed youth to search for the eggs.

Treating the nest

Gitonga explained that after identifying a nest with eggs, the habitat is treated with Talcum powder, an industrial chemical used in manufacturing of cosmetics. “We cover them completely with the powder and pick them after three days, when they are now ready for use,” said Gitonga.

Another dealer who declined to give his name, but claimed to be in Nairobi, said one must use gloves while picking the eggs from the nests.

“If possible, you should pick the whole nest, and ensure the eggs do not come into contact with each other,” he said.

Mr Paul Mureithi, a private conservationist of owls in Kiawara area in Nyeri County, said he was receiving as many calls from different people who claimed they wanted to buy the eggs.

“Some of them have even visited me and offered to give me as much as Sh1million if I give them some eggs,” he said.

 “What is worrying is that since the birds lead solitary lives, any slight disturbance within the nest leads to their migration,” he said.

Mureithi, who also researches on breeding habits of owls, said the bird can live in one nest for about ten years.

“After any disturbance on its nest, the birds move, and are even unable to breed,” he said.

 Paul Opiyo, the KWS officer in charge of Wildlife Use in mountain, eastern and northern conservation areas, said reports of the black trade have been received. He said dealers have approached some individuals conserving owls.

“This seems a tricky business, since most African communities do not want association with these birds, but we are at the moment tracking the dealers and getting more information about the trade,” said Opiyo.

“Our officers are alert, and we believe we will get a head way on our probe.”

Mr Felix Mwangangi, the Aberdares National Park Senior Warden said anybody dealing with any game product or by-products must have a license from the KWS.

“We are trying to establish whether these dealers or their bosses are permitted to trade in the eggs,” said Mwangangi.