Aude: from European goldfinches to elvers, the French office for biodiversity on the trail of lucrative trafficking

The French office for biodiversity (OFB) has 16 agents in Aude. In a territory considered one of the richest departments in terms of biodiversity, one of their – many – missions is to fight against poaching, trafficking and the possession of protected species.

Water, hunting and fishing police; a health watch, activated for example in December 2021 with the discovery in Sigean of three dead pelicans, carriers of avian influenza; counts, to follow the evolution, punctual or long term, of the populations of raptors, capercaillie or Tengmalm’s owls, but also of shad or hare; reports of wolf attacks.

A list – not exhaustive – of the missions of the agents of the French office for biodiversity (OFB), created in 2020 from the merger of the national office for hunting and wildlife (ONCFS) and the French agency of biodiversity (AFB).

Frédéric Marques and Albert Leone, both environmental inspectors at the OFB, in Aude.

A biodiversity that weighs heavily, in a department with 250 natural habitats, more than 300 animal species of heritage interest, and nearly 500 protected plant heritage species.

Without forgetting the rank of department with the largest number of breeding birds in France, with more than 200 species. A fragile wealth. Both environmental inspectors from the Aude OFB, Albert Leone and Frédéric Marques deliver an observation: “Evolution is not going towards an increase in biodiversity.”

Between climate change or the artificialization of natural spaces, the two agents will not comment on the causes, recalling that Aude must also do with the other side of the coin of a tourism that is valuable economically, but sometimes perilous for the environment: “From June, the population increases sharply, and that complicates the task, with tourists who can enter natural spaces, trample protected species, make fires,…”

Sold “70 to 150 €” per specimen, sometimes more for the best singers

But it is also throughout the year that the OFB strives to preserve protected species, to fight against poaching, trafficking and detention. A task in particular ensured for the benefit of the European goldfinch, a passerine whose, on a national scale, the numbers have shrunk by 40 to 50% in the last 20 years.

Classified as endangered on the red list of breeding birds of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the species, whose possession is conditional on a certificate of capacity (issued by the prefectures, Editor’s note), pays its colorful plumage and especially its song. “Like the greenfinch, it is one of the songbirds affected by trafficking”, sums up Frédéric Marques.

We monitor the mouth of the Aude, in Fleury, where the glass eels go up

In a department “mecca of passage for migratory species”, the hunt for goldfinches has been a reality for many years: “4 or 5 years ago, we were called by customs officers who had stopped a car where a hundred goldfinches.”

Sold between “70 and 150 €” the specimen, sometimes more for “the best singers”, the bird is hunted with nets, sticks coated with glue or cage-traps.

Between patrols and testimonies, the Aude OFB therefore “regularly does business” on the goldfinch, the capture, detention or trade of which is worth to offenders to incur, for each of these offences, a sentence of 3 years’ imprisonment. and a fine of €150,000: in 2021, several operations in Lézignanais, Narbonnais and on the coast made it possible to apprehend poachers in flagrante delicto and to dismantle networks of traffickers.

Several cages, traps, landing nets were seized and several dozen birds released into their natural environment.

European goldfinch numbers have dropped by 40 to 50% in 20 years.

European goldfinch numbers have dropped by 40 to 50% in 20 years.
Séverine Bignon / OFB – Séverine Bignon / OFB

Another protected species that the Aude OFB follows closely, the glass eel, the eel fry. Laid in the Sargasso Sea, in the Caribbean, the larvae usually reach, thousands of kilometers away, the fresh waters of estuaries, in the Atlantic, but also in the Mediterranean: “We monitor the mouth of the Aude , in Fleury, where the glass eels go up”, specifies Albert Leone. It is in particular during “night rounds” that the OFB tracks down illegal fishing, with the end result, as for the goldfinch, of seizures of equipment and fry returned to the water. Like the sparrow, the stakes are again high, financially. Food of choice in Spain, but also and above all in Japan and China, the glass eel is traded at “€1,000 per kg”.

From ivory to marmosets, the exotic trade

Operation “Hannibal”, devoted to ivory trafficking; “Beluga”, centered on the sale of caviar; or “Jaws”, especially dedicated to shark teeth. Three examples of coordinated action on a regional scale in which the Aude OFB has participated in recent years.

Operations related to the application of the International Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), adopted in 1973 and applied by 183 countries to protect wild species from unsustainable exploitation.

“Exotic” species whose traffic, which the OFB monitors in particular via an “internet watch on sales sites specializing in wildlife or non-domestic species”, also passes through Aude: “it responds to trends , fashions, which range from elephant ivory to cacti”, specifies Frédéric Marques, before, with Albert Leone, delivering an inventory to Prévert of the amazing discoveries made in the department.

“We were able to find 80 marmosets in an individual, but also a porcupine, a prairie dog, a meerkat.”


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