Minister Lepper tries to domesticate buffalo

A former minister of agriculture tried to change ministry regulations to designate the American buffalo a domesticated animal instead of a wild animal. Less than coincidently, the former minister’s son was unable to breed or slaughter any of his 20 buffalo because of the wild-animal designation. The son skirted the law to get the herd inside Poland, according to the daily newspaper Dziennik.

By changing the law, former Minister of Agriculture Andrzej Lepper would have been able to legalize his son Tomasz’s buffalo herd.The Ministry of Environment refused to agree to designating the American buffalo a domesticated animal, however. It feared the newcomer would compete with a threatened Polish buffalo known as the auroch.Poland’s Nature Protection Act lists the American buffalo as a wild animal. Lepper tried to get the designation changed almost immediately after becoming minister in May 2006.Getting the designation changed would have enabled his son to breed buffalo and sell their meat.

Lepper’s explanation for his attempt to change the designation was that a “buffalo is a kind of ? cow,” Dziennik reported. The Agriculture Ministry began work on changing the designations of a number of domesticated animals in June of 2006, only a month after Lepper became minister. The regulations cover cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, among other animals.The changes the ministry planned included placing special codes on various kinds of cattle, in line with a EU mandate on the transfer of livestock across EU borders.The plan to give the American buffalo a domesticated-animal designation was simple: Add “buffalo” to the list and give it a code.Two vice ministers of Agriculture, Sebastian Filipek-Kazmierczak and Marek Chrapak, were tasked with getting the buffalo designation through. An official in the Ministry of Environment noticed the American buffalo on the proposed domesticated-animal list that the Ministry of Agriculture had drawn up.Wait a minute, he said. The American buffalo could threaten the auroch if it spread across Poland. He refused to allow the re-designation of the American animal from wild to domesticated.But the vice ministers did not give up easily. They exchanged many letters with the Ministry of Environment on the topic over the course of several months.

Dziennik got a copy of one in which the vice ministers argued that if the American buffalo did not fall under the domesticated-animal identification and registration process, it would be impossible to control its movement within Poland.But the Ministry of Environment wouldn’t budge.Tomasz Lepper brought his 20 American buffalo to Poland on April 20, the newspaper said. A Polish customs official issued the 28-year-old a special certificate for their entry. Polish law says, however, that only the Ministry of Environment can authorize the admission of wild animals into Poland.

Tomasz did not have such permission, Dziennik said ? so the buffalo are in the country illegally. But the law does not provide for deporting these “illegals.” “It is possible to deport illegal people ? turn them back at the border ? but with illegal buffalo we can do nothing,” said a Ministry of Environment official. “We asked customs officials how it was possible that six wagonloads of buffalo got into the country. They are able to find small turtles and they did not notice buffalo?” The customs people wouldn’t answer the question directly, the Environment official said.For now the case is in limbo.

On the one hand, the animals are in Poland illegally. However, it is not possible to send them back to Germany, from where they were brought in, or to kill them.Poland’s Nature Preservation Act forbids the importing of buffalo but does not say what to do if they are already here.

“We could only inform Tomasz Lepper that these animals must be isolated on his farm,” said Ministry of Environment spokesman Slawomir Mazurek. The ministry told Lepper the animals could neither be bred nor sold.

“This is all we could do,” Mazurek said.The American buffalo was once protected in the United States as a species near extinction. Its numbers have bounced back to the point that there are hundreds of thousands now.That has led to buffalo being domesticated in the U.S. and sold for their meat and hides. Ted Turner, the legendary founder of Cable News Network, owns several ranches with huge herds of buffalo in the American West. He sells buffalo meat at restaurants in the CNN Tower in Atlanta and at other places.

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