AUGUST 14, 2019
by Joshua Goodman
In this Aug. 5, 2019 photo, canaries caught from the wild by animal traffickers sing in their cages in a quarantined area of a wildlife center before being freed in Bogota, Colombia. Songbird competitions have been a pastime throughout the Caribbean for centuries, but trapping wildlife without a license is a crime in Colombia. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)
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.
"That's what it feels like to be free," said Juan Camilo Panqueba, a veterinarian at a quarantine center in Colombia's high Andean capital, far from the canary's 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 groups