The Joburg Zoo has restarted its owl education project which focuses on educating the public about the benefits of the birds and breaking myths surrounding the raptors.
The project, which was halted because of the Covid pandemic, is an important vehicle in the conservation and preservation of the often-misunderstood birds, according to the Joburg Zoo.
Stinson, the barn owl, has been at Joburg Zoo for almost eight years. Rescued from a pet store in Alexandra, he now forms an integral part of the education awareness programme.
“People believe owls are associated with witchcraft,” said animal attendant Tshepisho Mokgabudi.
“And some kill owls because they believe there are medicinal benefits to their body parts. This is just a myth.”
Mokgabudi said a few times a week the keepers will bring an owl to the entrance allowing the public to interact with the bird. The raptors are also used for presentations to schoolchildren and large groups.
“As part of the zoo’s conservation efforts we want to educate the public that living with owls is actually good for us. Owls are excellent in pest control,” she said.
Joburg Zoo encourages the public to install owl boxes in their communities to entice owls to keep rodent populations in check.
“A barn owl like Stinson can eat about 3,000 rats per year,” said Joburg Zoo intern Themba Majola.
There was a period where owl numbers were declining in Joburg, but due to a programme involving the Joburg Zoo, which saw them breeding and releasing owls, the numbers in the city have now been secured.
This project focused on the spotted eagle owl, in particular.
“When you see an owl please don’t try to kill them,” pleaded Mokgabudi.
“The owl is there because there are a number of rodents around. They are merely there to feed, and this in turn helps you.”
Owls are threatened by human activities and encroachment onto their territories. “If you encounter one please leave them alone.
“Owls will never attack humans or babies – this is just another myth,” Mokgabudi added.