Survivors – Animals that Survived Thanks to Polish Naturalists

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland in English

Endangered animal species in Poland are listed in the Polish Red Book of Animals, which features several hundred species. The Red List of Threatened or Endangered Animals in Poland has a wider scope with more than 2,500 species. Animals are classified depending on the degree of risk – from the LC category for species in the lowest risk group to EX, or extinct species. The extinct category contains only (or as many as) two species – the tarpan (the Eurasian wild horse) and the auroch (a large mammal in the Bovidae family). Meanwhile, the list of species saved from extinction by Poles is much longer. Here are selected examples:
The Tatra Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra tatrica)
It lives mainly in the Tatras, a sprawling mountain range straddling the southern Poland and Slovakia. Being a typical mountain animal, it spends most of its life in mountain pastures, amid rocky peaks and at the tree line (1,700-2,200 m above sea level). The chamois was eagerly hunted because nearly all its parts are useful. Even its horns and chamois fat, which was believed to have medicinal properties, were used. As a result, the chamois had almost become extinct in the mid-19th century. Thanks to efforts by the Physiographic Committee of the Krakow Scientific Society, in particular Professor Maximilian Nowicki and Dr Eugeniusz Janota, on 5 October 1868, the National Parliament in Lvov adopted a law that prohibited the capture, extermination and sale of Alpine animals native to the Tatras – marmots and wild goats. It was the first time parliament passed an act to ensure the protection of animal species.
There were 36 chamois living in the Tatras in 1888. Just before World War I, their population increased to more than 130 individuals, but World War II reduced its number precipitously to a mere 27 animals. Today, the Tatras are home to approx. 500 chamois, including 100 living on the Polish side.
The Apollo (Parnassius Apollo)
This is one of the largest butterflies on our continent with a wingspan of up to 8 cm. It was described as early as in 1865 by Maksymilian Siła-Nowicki, a Polish zoologist and co-founder of the Tatra Society. The Apollo was once common throughout Poland, but a count conducted in 1991 revealed that only 20-30 butterflies lived in the Tatras and the Pieniny.
The Institute of Nature Conservation in Krakow launched conservation measures to save the species. Researchers collected larvae to breed the butterflies and later crossed them with a handful of their kin living in the wild. They also increased the area of distribution of the Apollo’s host plant, Sedum maximum L. Thanks to these efforts, the current population of the butterfly remains stable, although the Apollo is still listed as CR – a critically endangered species – in the Polish Red Book of Animals. A successful attempt at reintroduction of the Apollo was made in the Sudetes, and its restitution is envisioned in other parts of our country.
The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
This predatory bird species was once common in Europe, including Poland. Today, it is one of the rarest species in our country. Its population began to dwindle in the early 1950s, mainly as a result of widespread application of DDT in agriculture. Believed to be an excellent crop protection chemical, its tragic side-effects included mass contamination of the environment. In the second half of the 20th century, the peregrine falcon population became extinct in Poland.
​ Luckily, reintroduction of the species was launched and the project was largely driven by falconers who developed methods of intensive breeding. Since 1990, reintroduction has been pursued in Poland by six centres, including The Peregrine Falcon Breeding Centre of the University of Agriculture in Kraków and the Polish Falconers Order. Falcons selected for reintroduction are bred with human contact limited to a bare minimum to prepare the birds for release into the wild. Over two decades, 345 falcons have been released, including 291 birds released in forested areas. Following these intensive efforts, approx. 20 peregrine falcon nests may be spotted around the country, for the time being mainly in big cities and the mountains.