A European bison who accidentally wandered over the border into Germany last week was greeted with a bullet, angering conservationists who work to protect the rare species.
The largest land mammal in Europe hadn't been seen in the country in 250 years, reports Lucinda Watts of The Local, but had crossed the border from Poland, where many of the remaining creatures live today, according to the European Bison Conservation Center. Only a few thousand of the animals are estimated to exist in the wild, after being subject to many of the same threats that befell their American cousins.
After a person spotted the animal wandering alone in the forest near the east German town of Lebus, a local official panicked and worried that the animal could be dangerous, reports Christine Hauser for the New York Times. Officials were unable to track down a veterinarian to tranquilize the animal, and apparently resorted to employing the services of local hunters, Hauser reports.
“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,’” Moritz Klose, a policy director for the German branch of the World Wildlife Fund, tells Hauser.
The European bison is not known to be aggressive toward humans, reports Tom McKay for Gizmodo.
It's not clear what drove the animal to wander over the border in the first place, but male bison like the one recently killed tend to explore widely in search of new territory. The corpse is being studied now, reports Hauser, and will likely be eventually housed in a museum in the city of Potsdam.
The WWF has now filed a lawsuit against German authorities, arguing that they violated conservation laws by ordering the execution of the animal, which is classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. "The shooting of a strictly protected animal without a potential hazard is a criminal offense," WWF director Christoph Heinrich said in a statement in German.
European bison have been reintroduced by conservationists in western Germany, as Irene Banos Ruiz wrote for Deutsche Welle last year, a practice that has successfully restored many devastated wild populations of animals worldwide. Conservationists hope to reconstitute the herds of the animals that once roamed central Europe, but disputes from local landowners and farmers have cast doubts on the prospects of doing so.