18 Wednesday, August 14, 2019 08:35

Songbirds silenced as Colombia fights wildlife trafficking

The metal doors of a shoebox-sized cage open up and a bird tagged #811 launches into a giant aviary. The palm-sized finch performs a midair pirouette, lands on a willow branch and curiously twitches its saffron-colored head sideways, as if surprised by its good fortune.Thats what it feels like to be free, said Juan Camilo Panqueba, a veterinarian at a quarantine center in Colombias high Andean capital, far from the canarys natural habitat along the humid, Caribbean coast.

The moment of liberation contrasts with the dreadful conditions in which the finch was found. Three weeks ago, police in the capital seized 32 finches in a surprise raid on a cockfighting ring where a high-stakes, booze-filled songbird contest billed as the clash of titans on social media was taking place.

While sparring by way of song has been a pastime throughout the Caribbean for centuries, trapping wildlife without a license — even species like these saffron finches, or Sicalis flaveola, which are not threatened — is a crime in Colombia, though one that authorities ignored in a country overrun by drug cartels, leftist guerrillas and other armed groupsUntil now.

Taking advantage of a decline in violence, and spurred by a growing awareness of Colombias importance as the country with the second highest biodiversity in the world, authorities are going after animal trafficking like never before. Last year, police seized more than 34,600 animals illegally poached from the wild — a 44% increase over 2017.

Many were detected by a pack of 16 feather- and skin-sniffing dogs stationed at airports and bus stations.Just because its a tradition doesnt make it right, said Maj. Paula Ortiz, head of a 500-strong police unit that combats environmental crimes.Prosecutors are also more aggressively going after the criminal networks that thrive on the illegal trade, whose profits trail only drug and arms smuggling, according to police.

Globally, the wildlife trade is worth more than $10 billion, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.The focus on law enforcement coincides with a debate about the rights of wild animals raging in Colombia and around the world.This month, judges on Colombias constitutional court heard arguments in a long-running case over the fate of an endangered Andean spectacled bear named Chucho, who years ago was taken from a nature reserve and locked up a zoo in Barranquilla.

A lawyer claiming to act on the bears behalf successfully sued to have Chucho released. If the high court upholds that ruling it would be the first time a wild animal in Colombia has ever been granted habeas corpus rights similar to those enjoyed by human beings.The seizure of the 32 birds was the result of an undercover operation.

. In May, police with Bogotas environmental secretariat seized 16 birds, including an endangered cardinal, locked in small cages in three working-class apartments. Leads from that raid allowed authorities to clandestinely penetrate a network that organized last months.....

News Code: 300337  |  ABC News
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