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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Digital media and the modern-day pet trade: a case study of the Harry Potter effect and the owl trade in Thailand

P. Siriwat*, K. A. I. Nekaris, V. Nijman

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We explored the influence of film and media on the exotic pet trade using the context of the ‘Harry Potter effect’ and the owl trade in Thailand as a case study. We compared the owl trade between market surveys dating from 1966 to 2019 in Bangkok’s Chatuchak market, to online surveys from 2017 to 2019. Using generalised linear models, we examined whether prices offered for owls could be explained by variables linked to whether or not the species is featured in the Harry Potter franchise, body size, tameness and temporal/seasonal harvesting. We also tested for an anthropogenic Allee effect by examining the relationship between the availability of owls and asking price. Owls never exceeded 1.3% of the total number of birds for sale in Chatuchak animal market, and we did not observe any owls during our visits in 2011, 2018 and 2019. In contrast, we recorded 311 individuals of 17 species from 206 posts on the online marketplace on Facebook. Owls are offered for sale during all months of each year surveyed but more so from February to April; availability did influence price. We found that price was significantly explained by body mass, but not Harry Potter association nor by tameness. We found that owls have become more popular as pets, and as they are potentially sourced from the wild, this inevitably yields conservation concerns. Owls are just one of many groups of species suffering from the unregulated and accessible marketplace that social media sites offer to vendors.