French authorities just shot a resting herd of runaway bison to protect hikers. Were they right?

An ethical debate has broken out in France, after the wildlife and hunting agency opted to gun down a herd of escaped bison, rather than trying to stun and catch them, because they feared the cattle could hurt humans.

Some 19 animals, who were reared for human consumption and weighed between 300kg and 600kg, escaped from a pasture in Haute-Savoie, the French region that borders Switzerland and Italy, on Wednesday.

While they made no attempt to get close to human settlements, they did cross hiking trails in the picturesque and mountainous region, which prompted authorities to take action.

Officials said that they considered shooting the animals with anesthetic pellets, but the quantity of medicine required would have been prohibitive, and there was no guarantee that the pellets would hit the right parts of the animals to subdue them immediately, rather than causing a panic.

On Friday morning, “seven or eight” shooters quietly surrounded the herd, and on command simultaneously began to shoot, to prevent a stampede.

“The job gave us no pleasure, but we couldn’t afford the risk of a herd of bison wandering into a town,” wildlife and hunting agency official Aurelie Lebourgeois told AFP, adding that “bison do not behave like cows.”

Dominique Muffat-Meridol, the owner of the estate from which they escaped, condemned the decision in an interview with RTL, saying that the bison had escaped before and returned without problems. He bemoaned that he will be charged with the cost of the ranger operation.

Muffat-Meridol added that the herd’s meat would not be sanctioned for human consumption as they were not killed under sanitary conditions.

Neighboring Italy has gone through the same dilemma this week, after a captured “genius” bear reportedly escaped from its enclosure, which was surrounded by an electric fence, leading to a regional ranger hunt to recapture the fugitive. Despite public outcry, authorities say they may have to kill the bear.

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