French rooster wins battle to crow…and Sh1.5m in damages
The owner of famed French rooster Maurice emerged victorious on Thursday (Sept 5) from a legal battle with her neighbours over his early-morning crowing, with a court upholding the bird’s right to sing in the day.
The case filed by the neighbours of Maurice’s owner Corinne Fesseau has made headlines around the world, seen as symptomatic of the tensions in the countryside between rural folk and holiday home owners.
“Maurice won and the plaintiffs must pay his owner €1,000 (S$1,500) in damages,” Ms Fesseau’s lawyer Julien Papineau told AFP.
Ms Fesseau had told the court in Rochefort, western France, that nobody near her home on the picturesque Atlantic island of Oleron had ever complained about Maurice before a couple of pensioners bought a holiday home next door.
After they complained of being woken by his crowing, she made several attempts to silence him, including placing black sheets around his coop to trick him into thinking that morning had not yet broken – all to no avail.
“I’m speechless,” Ms Fesseau said on Thursday, adding: “It’s a victory for everyone in the same situation as me. I hope it will set a precedent for them.”
The case has ballooned into a national cause celebre, with 140,000 people signing a “Save Maurice” petition or proudly displaying his picture on “Let Me Sing” T-shirts.
Critics saw the lawsuit as part of a broader threat to France’s hallowed rural heritage by outsiders and city dwellers unable or unwilling to understand the realities of country life.
“This is the height of intolerance – you have to accept local traditions,” Mr Christophe Sueur, the mayor in Fesseau’s village of Saint-Pierre-d’Oleron, told AFP.
The plaintiffs were a couple of retired farmers from the Haute-Vienne region of central France.
In many rural areas in France, some villagers resent richer urbanites buying up property in declining farming villages, which played into the fierce “yellow vest” anti-government protests that erupted around the country last November.
FURIOUS OPEN LETTER
The mayor of the south-western village of Gajac, Mr Bruno Dionis, penned a furious open letter in May in defence of the rights of church bells to ring, cows to moo, and donkeys to bray throughout rural France.
Dionis du Sejour has asked the government to inscribe the sounds on France’s heritage list.
Maurice and his owner are not the only ones ruffling feathers. This week, a woman in the duck-breeding heartland of the Landes region was taken to court by a newcomer neighbour fed up with the babbling of the ducks and geese in her back garden.
A petition in support of “the Hardy ducks”, as they have been dubbed, after the name of a nearby lake, has garnered about 5,000 signatures.
“More and more people are heading to rural areas, not to work in agriculture, but to live there,” Mr Jean-Louis Yengue, a geographer at the University of Poitiers, told AFP. “Everyone is trying to defend their territory.”