Bison Awareness In Europe

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European bison near the town of Bad Berleburg, Germany, in 2013. Credit Marius Becker/Picture Alliance, via Associated Press

Bison in Europe have not been on our agenda for a while, though rewilding in Europe remains a topic we monitor and share here with regularity. Progress seemed more the rule than the exception; so this recent story from Germany takes us by complete surprise:

Last week, a rare wild bison was spotted wandering alone near the town of Lebus in eastern Germany. A local official, alarmed that the animal could be dangerous, ordered hunters to shoot it and one of them did, using a rifle to kill an animal that had not freely roamed Germany for several hundred years, conservationists say.

The killing of the mature male European bison on Sept. 14, which was first reported by local news outlets, set off an outcry among conservationists, who have worked to protect the species and increase its population. The World Wide Fund for Nature in Germany has begun a lawsuit against the local official who gave the order, Heiko Friedemann, setting off a state investigation before it goes to court.

The bison had been seen wandering in a forest in Poland, just over the border from Lebus, before it crossed the Oder River into Germany and approached the town, Moritz Klose, a WWF policy director, said in an interview.

“The people from the local city administration basically freaked out and said, ‘There is a free-roaming bison, it is probably dangerous and I guess we need to shoot it,’” he said.

“I think the authorities from Germany and Poland — there is not good coordination,” Mr. Klose said. “They should have known there is a bison roaming on the other side of the river, and apparently there was no such exchange.”

But, he added: “It all happened really quickly.”

Mr. Friedemann, the administrative director of Lebus, could not be reached by email or telephone on Wednesday. But he was quoted by the German news organization RBB24 as saying that he had made the decision to shoot when he was informed that the animal could be dangerous.

European bison, also known as wisent, are listed as vulnerable, or at risk of extinction, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, whose Red List is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of threatened plant and animal species. They are native to Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine, according to the I.U.C.N.

There are about 4,000 free-roaming bison in herds, and a few thousand more in parks or other designated but open areas, according to the European Bison Conservation Center.

Threats include a lack of knowledge about the animal, habitat loss, a narrow genetic base making it weak against disease and the absence of a shared strategy among European nations to support the bison population, said Rewilding Europe, a conservation group that put the bison’s population at about 3,000.

Wild bison had not been seen in Germany for over 200 years, said Christoph Heinrich, the director of conservation at the WWF in Germany, in announcing the lawsuit. Efforts to reintroduce the animals, which can weigh over one ton, have taken place in recent years in western Germany. The sighting in the east was an anomaly, despite being in line with the impulses of male bison, Mr. Klose said, which tend to roam more than female ones…

Read the whole story here.

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