Harry Potter Has Created a Huge Black Market for Owls in Indonesia

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There are many fantastical things in the Harry Potter world you can’t have. Teleportation. Invisibility. A weird tween’s ghost hanging out in your school bathroom. If you know where to look, though, you can buy yourself a pet owl like Hedwig. And that’s not a great thing for the owls.

In Indonesia, researchers believe that the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise is leading to a significant uptick in black-market owl trading, Nature reports.

A new study in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation examined the number of owl sales in 20 bird markets on the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java, where wild-caught birds are sold as pets. In the early 2000s, owls were rare in these markets, but now, more owls from a variety of species are available to buy, spelling bad news for bird conservation. (The first Indonesian translation of Harry Potter came out in 2000, and the first film was released in 2001.) In larger bird markets, there might be 30 to 60 owls representing as many as eight species available at once, according to the study. Owls made up less than 0.06 percent of the birds in Indonesian bird markets before 2002, but after 2008, they were 0.43 percent of the market.

While there could be other reasons for the increase in demand for owls as pets, such as greater internet access allowing people to trade info on where to get the birds, the world’s most famous boy wizard surely shares some of the blame. Look no further than the birds' popular name: "Harry Potter birds." They used to be known as "ghost birds," the researchers write.

Technically, selling wild-caught owls is illegal, but the law isn’t well enforced. Indonesia doesn’t monitor its native owl population, so it's hard to pin down exactly how this is affecting the numbers of wild owls in the region. But typically, nothing good comes of large numbers of wild birds being sold as pets, especially when they're kept in sub-par conditions. The paper's authors recommend that owls be placed on the country's protected species list, with better education for both bird traders and the public on the illegality of buying and selling owls caught in the wild. Maybe a "Save Hedwig" campaign is in order.

[h/t Nature]

Toronto, 'Raccoon Capital of the World,' Is Fighting Its Trash Panda Problem ... and Losing

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Toronto’s “raccoon-resistant” garbage cans aren’t as effective as city officials hoped. As NPR reports, the self-proclaimed “raccoon capital of the world” has been unable to outwit some of the city’s cleverest "trash pandas."

For years, Torontonians have struggled to contend with the city’s booming raccoon population and its insatiable appetite for old pizza, overripe bananas, and just about everything else that gets thrown out with the trash. In 2016, the city spent CA$31 million (about US$24 million) on waste bins that were specially designed to keep furry scavengers out. To open one up, a rotating handle on the lid must be turned to unhinge a gravity lock. The hope was that raccoons, which lack opposable thumbs, wouldn’t be able to break in.

Cameras cast doubt on that theory. In a heist that would make National Treasure's Nicolas Cage proud, footage uploaded to YouTube by the Toronto Star shows a determined mama raccoon cracking the code to open the lid and get to the good stuff inside.

Even without thumbs, raccoons have nimble paws. On top of that, urban raccoons boast some serious street smarts. One study by raccoon expert Suzanne MacDonald revealed that raccoons knew to avoid busy intersections, and another study found that city raccoons are better than their country counterparts at figuring out how to open garbage can lids.

Research from the early 1900s showed that raccoons could crack 11 out of 13 locks—which included latches, levers, buttons, hooks, and bolts—to open a box with food inside. As for the episode seen above, Toronto officials and an employee from the garbage can company said broken bins are to blame. The faulty bin was replaced, but the camera kept rolling, and footage showed that raccoons were able to knock over and break into the new bin, too.

This time, the bin manufacturer blamed the breach on a faulty handle. On the bright side, the city reported that these break-ins aren’t widespread. Out of nearly 500,000 bins, only 24 raccoon-related problems were reported.

MacDonald has been tracking whether the city’s “very fat” raccoons have lost any weight since the new bins have been rolled out. While the results aren't yet conclusive, “they’re not starving to death, that’s for sure,” she told Toronto Star reporter Amy Dempsey.

[h/t NPR]

How You Can Help Animals Affected by Hurricane Florence

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If you've ever considered rescuing a pet, now's the time to take the plunge: You could save an animal's life if you choose to adopt from a shelter in the path of Hurricane Florence.

With the Category 1 storm making landfall over the Carolinas this week, government officials have urged as many as 1.7 million residents to evacuate their homes. As a result, local animal shelters are scrambling to find homes for abandoned pets before the worst of the storm hits, and if they aren't able to place them in time, some animals will have to be euthanized.

That makes now the perfect time to adopt a pet if you're in the position to do so. Some shelters, like the Pender County Animal Shelter in Burgaw, North Carolina, have even waived their adoption fees in an effort to encourage more people to take pets home.

If you can't make a commitment to owning a pet at this time, fostering is also an option. Most shelters in the storm path will gladly place pets with someone who can give a dog or cat shelter until it's safe for them to return to the area. And if that's still not a possibility for you, you can help shelters by making a monetary donation. Transporting pets and making sure they're spayed, neutered, and vaccinated costs money, and shelters can use donations to help more pets get out the door and into safe homes.

The Charleston Animal Society, the Greenville Humane Society, the Humane Society of Charlotte, and the Pender County Animal Shelter are just a handful of animal shelters in need of assistance. You can also look at specific requests for support local shelters have made through this website.

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