After almost a quarter of a millennium of absence, a wild European bison was spotted rambling through the forests of eastern Germany. Within a few days, it was shot dead.
The animal was first spotted on Wednesday by a member of the public near the river Oder on the border between Germany and Poland, reported The Local. After the authorities were made aware of this astonishing sighting, the head of the local public order office decided that the bison was a danger, and subsequently ordered two local hunters to shoot the animal dead on Thursday.
It is thought that the male bison probably wandered over the border from the Ujście Warty National Park in Poland, and was likely one of the first wild roaming European bison spotted in Germany for 250 years. By Friday, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) had announced that it is pursuing charges against the official who gave the order to kill the animal.
“Giving permission to shoot a strongly protected animal without a clear potential threat is a criminal offense,” Chris Heinrich, a WWF board member, said in a statement. “After more than 250 years a wild bison had been spotted again in Germany and all the authorities could think to do is shoot it.”
Native bison have already been released into National Parks and other wilderness areas within Germany. Back in 2012, a small herd of eight individuals was released to establish a semi-wild group in Rothaargebirge. Still, the recently deceased bison is thought to have been the first free-roaming individual ever to have wandered into the country.
European bison are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as "vulnerable" on its Red List of Endangered species. There are only around 2,700 free roaming individuals known and they are classified as “strongly protected animals” under German law.
The European bison once ranged across Europe but its numbers have been decimated over the last few centuries. They were hunted so heavily that in 1927 the last wild bison was shot in the Western Caucasus, with around 50 animals surviving in zoos. From then, conservationists have worked tirelessly to rebuild the species, reintroducing bison back into their native continental range.
Poland, where the individual likely originated, has one of the healthiest populations of bison in Europe. Despite hundreds of the animals roaming free, there have been no reports of them posing risk to anyone. It is therefore unclear exactly what the official thought was so dangerous about the unfortunate individual in the first place.