Image: Michael Gäbler, Wikimedia Commons

For the first time in more than 250 years, a wild bison was spotted in Germany after crossing the border from Poland — and immediately shot on sight by authorities. 

European bison once roamed freely throughout the country and extensive efforts are underway to preserve the rare animal, considered “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The male bison was spotted wandering next to the river Oder near the town of Lebus by a man who considered it dangerous and immediately alerted the authorities. Their response was to alert local hunters to bring down the animal, which angered conservationists who have been striving to reintroduce the European bison into previously native regions throughout Europe, including Western Germany.

Bison are not known to be dangerous to humans, a fact supplemented by their wide ranging presence throughout bordering Poland where they are also considered a national symbol. Conservationists argue the situation could have been more appropriately handled by a professional veterinary team, who could have tranquilized and then relocated the animal.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is now filing charges against the official in eastern Germany who handled the response and subsequent killing of the animal.

“Giving permission to shoot a strongly protected animal without a clear potential threat is a criminal offense,” Chris Heinrich, a WWF board member said in a statement.

The corpse is being analyzed by scientists and will likely be donated to a museum in the city of Potsdam, according to the Smithsonian.

After 250 years, one of Europe’s largest land mammals crosses a country border and the authorities’ first reaction is to shoot it — this has both conservationists and the general public alike scratching their heads in disbelief.