European bison in Ukraine threatened by Russian invasion

A lot of animals are struggling with the Russian invasion in Ukrainian territories. Unfortunately, animals are vulnerable to troops, tanks and military actions. The war is destroying their habitats and they do not have many options to save themselves.

European bison are under threat of extinction as many other wild animals today in Ukraine. Kajetan Perzanowski, a biologist from Catholic University of Lublin, and Vitaliy Smagol, zoologist from Schmalhausen Institute of Zoology in Kyiv, published a scientific paper (see below) about the current state of the European bison population in Ukraine and possible consequences for animals caused by the war.

European bison (Bison bonasus) used to be quite common in Ukraine until the late Middle Ages, but died out by 1917. In 1965 they were reintroduced to the country via animals from Białowieska Forest in Poland and from the Prioksko-Terasny and Oksky reserves in Soviet Union. After Ukraine’s independence however, due to mismanagement, over hunting, poaching etc., the numbers of free ranging bison fell by 2009 to just over 200 individuals, and four of the previously formed herds were lost. Eventually, nature conservationists made serious efforts towards an improvement of the animals’ genetic health through their import from abroad. The numbers in population increased and new herds established in South and Central regions. By 2020, Ukraine owned the world’s fourth largest population of European bison, and together with help from other European countries, several initiatives towards its enlargement were in progress. This great recovery created new opportunities for the restoration of this iconic important species in Eastern Europe.

Scientists collected data about the current state of the population through personal interviews with people involved in nature conservation within Ukraine, who are still accessible in war conditions. On 24th of February, Russia invaded Ukraine and a large part of protected areas became a battle field. Right now, it is almost impossible to properly monitor the situation of protected areas and species.

Currently, over half of the Ukrainian bison population is directly under threat from acts of warfare. Because of their size and reactive behaviors, they are very vulnerable and helpless in terms of saving their lives under rocket fire. Another persistent threat for such large mammals are land mines placed in forests and farm areas. The mission of reintroduction and healing the population after the end of the war will require a lot of involvement of international nature conservation organisations.

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