French hunters skewered over songbird delicacy

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France's Bird Protection League sent activists Sunday to search and destroy traps laid to capture the Ortolan Bunting - a rare and tiny songbird that is eaten as a culinary delicacy.

Mont de Marsan – Activists staged a commando operation on Sunday to denounce the capture of a rare, tiny songbird that is roasted and eaten whole by French gourmets in defiance of a 10-year ban.

For centuries aficionados have viewed the Ortolan Bunting – a bird about the size of a thumb that is prepared by being drowned in Armagnac, plucked, roasted and eaten whole, bones and all – as the ultimate culinary delicacy.

A connoisseurs' dish long reserved for royal tables, Ortolan is traditionally eaten with the head under a napkin to trap in the rich aromas rising from the plate.

A biography of France's president Francois Mitterrand provocatively claimed he had feasted on Ortolan at a dramatic last supper before his death in 1995, although the account was later denied by his friends.

Now a protected species, it has been illegal to hunt, sell or eat the bird in France since 1999.

But that has not stopped thousands of the green- and grey-plumed birds from falling prey each year to determined poachers, who fatten them up in cages and sell them on the black market for up to EUR 150.

France's Bird Protection League, LPO, sent a seven-strong squad of activists at dawn Sunday to search out and destroy traps laid for the Ortolan in the Landes region of southwestern France, where most of the birds are hunted.

The league accuses French authorities of "unacceptable tolerance" towards hunters of the Ortolan.

The LPO's president Allain Bougrain-Dubourg says that some 30,000 are captured every August and September as they gather for their annual migration to Africa, but that only eight people were caught and fined in 2008.

"We want the state to face up to its responsibilities," he said.

France's junior environment minister Chantal Jouanno acknowledged that "the state turned a blind eye for 30 years," but said it was determined to protect the Ortolan, whose numbers have plunged 90 to 70 percent in 20 years.

"Now the message is very clear: there will be zero tolerance from 2010 onwards, the year of biodiversity," she told AFP.

AFP / Expatica

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