The World Wildlife Fund said on Friday it will be pursuing charges against a local official who, upon receiving a report of the first sighting of a wild bison in Germany in over 250 years, promptly ordered hunters to shoot the animal dead.
According to the Local, police say a man spotted the bison near the river Oder in the town of Lebus on September 13th before reporting what he had seen to the public order office in Brandenburg. The head of that office determined the bison was a threat to the local population and had two local hunters shoot it the next day.
The animal likely wandered from Poland’s Ujście Warty National Park, which sits on the border with Germany, Polish officials told the paper.
“Giving permission to shoot a strongly protected animal without a clear potential threat is a criminal offence,” WWF board member Chris Heinrich told the Local 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.”
The European bison is listed as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List, which notes it is the largest herbivore on the continent and was once widespread throughout western, central, and southeastern Europe, as well as the Caucasus. At the end of the 1800s, IUCN wrote, only two populations of the bison survived in Białowieża Forest and the western Caucasus mountains. It was later deemed extinct in the wild by 1927, though conservation efforts have reintroduced free-ranging populations to “Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Slovakia.”
It is not known to be dangerous to humans.
Just last year, the Dutch government reintroduced 11 of the bison to state forests in the province of Noord-Brabant in hopes of establishing a breeding stock to repopulate the species’ previous range in western Europe. It had previously introduced one other population to the Kraansvlak nature reserve in the province of Noord-Holland in 2007, per National Geographic.
Rewilding Europe managing director Frans Schepers told the magazine the species was ideal for reintroduction as it could speed the recovery of forests and plains.
“Rewilding is not just about putting animals back,” he said. “It’s about allowing natural processes to take over as much as possible.”
Something that, naturally, requires not shooting them on sight.