The goldfinch, victim of high-level trafficking


In a tiny cage, at the back of the Marseille flea market, a little bird panics. Red mask around the beak, yellow glow on the wings, a few touches of black and white: it is an elegant goldfinch. A customer approaches, the salesman appears and, in a few seconds, the man sets out again in the tumult of the grand bazaar, his booty buried in a plastic bag.

A few steps farther on, between the meat aisle and the spice aisle, two men are talking, squatting in front of a cage where five or six birds of the same species are piled up this time. « A few years ago, goldfinches were sold in the middle of the street, now they hide them … We are gaining ground, they at least understood that it was illegal », notes Jean-Yves Bichaton, head of the departmental service of the French Biodiversity Office (OFB), which is trying to dismantle the traffic of this protected bird.

On both sides of the Mediterranean, in the south of France and even more in the Maghreb, the goldfinch is dying to be so adored. Its capture in the wild has grown to such an extent that it threatens the already weakened species. The passion for this bird is old – in North Africa, we find traces of its domestic use from the VIIIe century. It would bring good luck to the home. Her delicate beauty has charmed more than one painter. And, for once, its ramage relates to its plumage: its song is lively, twirling, varied … So much so that some capture birds for them. « School » (train them), locking them up for several months with a songmaster bird or sound recordings, so that they learn to imitate their vocalizations down to the note. The most virtuosos take a great value, which can exceed 500 euros.

« Know how it’s organized »

But more often than not, his business is less juicy. In France, the specimens just captured would be sold between 20 and 50 euros, then resold for up to 80 to 100 euros at the flea market in Marseille, the epicenter of this traffic. Their predators: « It goes from the enthusiast who does this by family tradition, without seeing the harm, to versatile traffickers, who use it as an additional resource », exhibits Jean-Yves Bichaton.

If the penalty incurred is three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 euros, the sentences are, in fact, much lower. And trafficking, they say, is more profitable than cannabis. No need to invest or go far to get it: the bird is common on wasteland and wasteland in urban areas, all over the Mediterranean coast. In the northern districts of Marseille, for example.

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