Belarus says Polish border fence threatens bison

MOSCOW: Belarus warned on Friday that Poland’s border fence, erected to deter illegal migrants, is threatening the existence of the iconic European bison.

The Bialowieza Forest, which lies on the border between Poland and Belarus, is home to Europe’s largest population of bison.

Last year, Poland built a steel wall along its border with Russia’s ally Belarus to prevent illegal border crossings.

Belarus’ foreign ministry said Friday the border fence poses a threat to the animals, impeding their freedom of movement and threatening to impoverish the animals’ gene pool.

“Poland’s work to erect a fence on the border with Belarus is once again threatening the existence of bison,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The construction of the border fence has repeatedly raised environmental concerns about the impact on wildlife along the mostly forested border.

Poland’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the claim, accusing Belarus of manipulating facts and trying to “use environmental concerns against Europe”.

“These allegations have been made for months,” Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina told AFP on Friday.

“But the bison gene pool is inherently limited, as they all come from the same individuals that appeared there in the 1920s as a result of rescue efforts by the then Polish government.”

The bison that once roamed Europe is a conservation success story.

By the 1920s, their numbers had been reduced so much that surviving specimens were herded to zoos and a breeding program started in Poland.

After being reintroduced in 1952, the broad-shouldered animals thrived and are no longer considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the custodians of the Red List.

According to Belarus, the Bialowieza Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was home to around 1,400 European bison last year. -AFP Belarus says Polish border fence threatens bison

Russell Falcon

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