BERLIN — It was a most surprising case for the police: An endangered bird may have attacked two men in a forest, they attacked and killed the bird, and a crowd attacked the two men. Less surprising, alcohol was involved.
Now, with the body of a western capercaillie as evidence, the authorities in southwestern Germany are trying to determine what happened, and whether anyone involved committed a crime.
Returning home from a festival on Saturday, two young men, both drunk, took a shortcut through the woods, when they encountered the bird and beat it with a bottle, according to the police in Titisee-Neustadt, the Black Forest village where the incident occurred.
They later said they were merely defending themselves from the capercaillie, also known as a wood grouse or heather cock, which is roughly the size of a large chicken. In keeping with German law, the men, aged 22 and 20, were not identified.
The bird might have charged the men, but it posed no danger, said Christian Sütfeld, a volunteer forest ranger responsible for the Feldberg area of the Black Forest.
“It’s about territory: just like swans, grouses protect their living area,” he said. “But it is in no way a threat to life. If the men had just backed up, nothing would have happened.”
The western capercaillie is abundant across much of Eurasia, but increasingly rare in Western Europe, and it is on the endangered species list in Germany.
Once a symbol of Germany’s dense forests and a favorite of hunters, the bird’s numbers have dwindled rapidly because of habitat loss, loss of diversity in forest plant life and the fact that it is very easily stressed when it comes into contact with people.
There are roughly 1,000 pairs remaining in Germany, spread over too large an area to naturally sustain the population. The largest concentration is in the Black Forest, where several hundred remain.
“They are very stress-sensitive and so isolated that there is no more exchange between the birds,” said Leonie Weltgen, a scientific officer for wildlife and nature conservation at the German Animal Welfare Federation.
Two years ago, Swedish grouses were moved to the eastern German state of Thuringia to boost the numbers, and deepen the gene pool, of birds there.
“These birds are very tough,” said Mr. Sütfeld, the forest ranger, who was called to the scene by the police in Titisee-Neustadt to examine the capercaillie’s body. It had been beaten severely, he said, “there were feathers missing from the chest and the neck,” and the ultimate cause of death was a broken neck.
“I think it was sheer stupidity — somehow they didn’t realize what they were doing,” he said.
But he added that the men recorded a video of their clash with the bird.
After witnessing the death of the bird from afar, several people in a group of about ten punched, kicked and poured beer over the two men, according to the police. The group also called the police and held the men until officers arrived.
“We are now talking to everyone involved to see how many actively engaged in the violence,” said Jerry Clark, a police spokesman.
The two men had spent an afternoon at the Laurentiusfest, a well-known festival in the region. They took a roughly 250-yard shortcut straight through the forest, likely cutting right through the grouse’s territory.
“If they had only stayed on the path, none of this would have happened,” Mr. Sütfeld said.
SOURCE : https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/12/world/europe/germany-police-rare-bird-vigilantes.html