Wild bison with TB may have to be killed in Poland

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A herd of 25 wild European bison infected with tuberculosis should be killed to prevent the disease from spreading to other herds in southeastern Poland, officials said Monday.

A panel of 18 veterinary and breeding experts in Krosno have decided to ask national authorities for permission to kill the rare wild animals living near the village of Stuposiany in the Bieszczady mountains. The panel also suggested that research should start on anti-TB vaccination for bison.

Veterinarian Miroslaw Welz, a member of the panel, said it was a painful decision but seemed to be the only one that would protect the remaining herds, which are believed to be disease-free.

"The decision to eliminate (the bison) is very difficult," Welz said. "I would have preferred some other possibility, not so very drastic. (But) under these conditions I don't see any and the commission did not see any either."

The disease probably spread to bison through sharing pastures with infected cattle. TB first appeared in bison in the Bieszczady region in 1997, leading veterinarians to kill a herd of 18 near Solina, north of Stuposiany.

A new TB case — a dead female bison — was registered in early 2010, and two more from her herd died this year. That herd is the one being singled out for culling.

Europe's bison population was nearly wiped out at the start of the 20th century and has been laboriously rebuilt from a few dozen that survived in the Caucasus, in zoos and with private owners.

Some 270 bison live in Bieszczady now, the descendants of nine animals brought there in 1963. Another 481 live in the pristine Bialowieza forest, in the east. These are free of TB.

Thousands of their larger cousins, the American bison, live in the wild in national parks and reserves in the United States and Canada, where they have also come back from near-extinction.