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Poland's border fence threatens lynxes, researchers say

Reuters logo Reuters 22/07/2022
FILE PHOTO: Bialowieza: Europe's last primeval forest © Reuters/Kacper Pempel FILE PHOTO: Bialowieza: Europe's last primeval forest

WARSAW (Reuters) - Cutting through Poland's Bialowieza forest, the fence on the country's border with Belarus that is meant to stop the flow of migrants is hampering the movement of the Bialowieza lynxes and could lead to their extinction, researchers said.

Before the border wall was completed in late June, about 40 of the lynxes, which are protected by Polish law, inhabited the dense forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site and an EU Natura 2000 special area of conservation.

It is unclear how many of the lynxes stayed on the Polish side after the barrier was built, but the population is likely to be divided between the two sides, the Mammal Research Institute at the Polish Academy of Sciences, which monitors the forest's animals, said.

"Lynxes used areas on both sides of the border, had their areas on both sides of the border, functioned as one population. Now, dividing the forest into two separate ecosystems will cause the population of these animals to be separated," Rafał Kowalczyk, from the institute, said.

"Dividing it will obviously affect the possibility of reproduction, will affect the spatial organisation of this population, social organisation, migration, gene flow and may even lead to the extinction of these lynxes in a longer period."

Poland's border guard says the fence does not constitute an obstacle for animals as it has 24 gates for large animals to go through if needed, which will enable continuous migration, and pointed to an 1980s fence on the Belarusian side that had already changed the animals’ movement patterns.

FILE PHOTO: Bialowieza: Europe's last primeval forest © Reuters/Kacper Pempel FILE PHOTO: Bialowieza: Europe's last primeval forest

Kowalczyk said his research showed that lynxes used to cross through the fence in Belarus undisturbed about 50 to 60 times a year.

The new barrier was built after European countries last year accused Belarus of engineering a migration crisis by flying in people from the Middle East and pushing them to attempt to illegally cross its borders into Poland and Lithuania. Minsk rejected the accusations.

(Reporting by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, Editing by Krisztina Than and Alison Williams)

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