European bison conservation project hanging by a thread

According to the environmental organization WWF, things are not looking good for Germany’s only free-living herd of bison and the species protection project that is recognized throughout Europe. “It would be important that there is a perspective for these animals in freedom, but I don’t have much hope for that,” said WWF wildlife expert Moritz Klose of the German Press Agency. The only solution is for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia to take responsibility and reorganize the species protection project with a different structure and several competent participants.

Ten years after its celebrated launch, the project is hanging by a thread. An initially eight-headed herd was released in Wittgensteiner Land in the Rothaargebirge on the basis of a contract between the Wisent-Welt-Wittgenstein association, the Siegen-Wittgenstein district and the Arnsberg district government. The herd migrated, causing extensive damage to trees. Disputes were sometimes fought out in court. In autumn 2022, the sponsoring association declared the animals “masterless” – and no longer responsible for itself. The district and state of North Rhine-Westphalia reacted angrily. The district announced the completion of the project.

Free-living animals

“Germany has a responsibility for this species, which is strictly protected throughout Europe,” emphasized Klose, WWF program manager for wild animals in Germany and Europe. “If the project fails, it could send out a fatal signal,” Klose warned, referring to other European countries. The WWF is currently assuming a stock of around 7,200 wild bison in Europe.

“The bison were on the verge of extinction. Her return is a success story,” said Klose. Both animals in captivity and in the wild are important for the survival of the bison – also known as the European bison.

If the country refuses to take responsibility for the project, according to the WWF, there are only two other options: “The animals will be removed, so the country will have them captured and try to house them in other European countries in projects there, but they will hardly scream “Woo-hoo”,” said Klose. Or – that is unlikely – the bison would be shot.

According to the NRW Forest Farmers’ Association at the end of June, there were around 40 animals that were now in two herds in Siegerland and in the Hochsauerland district. The WWF assumes 30 to 35 animals.

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