Interview: European bison vital for biodiversity in all of Europe, says Polish expert

2021-10-12 23:06:02 GMT2021-10-13 07:06:02(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

WARSAW, Oct. 12 (Xinhua) -- The European bison, also known as the wisent or the European buffalo, is vital for the biodiversity in all of Europe, an expert has told Xinhua on the occasion of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) that opened Monday in Kunming, China.

Wanda Olech-Piasecka, professor of genetics and animal protection at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences and chair of the European Bison Lover Foundation, said that the preservation of the animal in Europe is a means to reaching the goals of COP15 rather than a goal in itself.

World leaders meet at the COP15 to finalize negotiations for a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which aims to halt and reverse the loss of the planet's plants, animals and ecosystems.

"The European bison, or zubr as it is called in Polish, is crucial," she said. "It is one of the few remaining megafauna (large animals of an area) in Europe that grazes over large areas, eating away invasive plant species before they can suppress other, more delicate ones."

For those reasons, the European bison is released all over Europe, including in countries where it did not originally appear. "We have transported a herd to Spain, for example, where it thrives and does exactly what we hoped it would do: manage the plant life there," Olech-Piasecka said.

The European bison population is growing, especially in Poland, where they mostly live in the wild. Elwira Plis-Kuprianowicz, an animal conservation specialist in Poland's Bialowieza National Park, told Xinhua that the species was downgraded from "endangered" to "vulnerable" in 2020.

"We currently have over 2,300 in Poland, with 715 in our park, where the animals have their natural habitat." Park services constantly monitor their location and make sure that the animals have enough food to survive.

"We provide the basic circumstances for the European bison to survive there," said the specialist, adding that the park also guards the animals against conflicts with humans.

But while the European bison is no longer endangered, it is still a species that needs to be managed closely, Olech-Piasecka and Plis-Kuprianowicz said.

"Herds can't become too large as that would increase the risk of infectious diseases." Diseases are still the main danger for the European bison. The species came close to extinction in the 1950s after an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis, Plis-Kuprianowicz recalled.

"But the herds can't be too small either as that would limit the genetic stock within a group," Olech-Piasecka explained. "Also, for that reason, groups need to have space to migrate and meet other herds to keep enough genetic variation." Enditem