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German Wild Parks: Part Zoo, Part Sanctuary, Part Walk in the Woods

Last week I got to visit the Saarbrucken Wildpark, but I’m still not completely sure what I saw. There’s no exact translation for “Wildpark,” but these little nature attractions are all over Germany. Native animals–wild boars, fallow deer, red deer, bison –and farm animals like goats roamed in huge pens in the woods.

But then when we got to the cafeteria there were signs and a brochure boasting of “wildsalmi” and how great it is that they let animals live wild until they die.

So were these animals here going to be eaten? Were they rescued from injury? Or were they just here for a pleasant show?  The answer is probably the last one, as near as I can gather so far. The couple Germans I’ve talked to were adamant that the animals at wildparks aren’t eaten. They didn’t know about rescue. As a small-time wildlife rehabber, I’d think the parks would be the perfect place for injured, orphaned or diseased animals that couldn’t survive in the wild.

They seem to be a unique German–or maybe European–tradition going back decades. This one was built in 1929. German friends say they went as kids. That explains why the extraordinarily helpful train clerk in the Saarbrucken station practically tried to talk me out of going, noting that there were certain hours to go “if you want a pony ride.”

Europeans may be bored with their fallow deer and wild boars, but I’ve never seen them. I couldn’t have been more delighted with the native European animals they had there. The wild boars were the animals most interesting to me, even though they mainly just napped in the mud. There were both red and fallow deer. I tried to use my knowledge of German from 99 Luft Balloons to ask a helpful worker which these were. And then I learned that that luft means air, not red. Plus they have wisent (Bison bonsasus a smaller, endangered European version of the bison), which are breeding. I’d like to figure out if the young wisent are part of the captive breeding program that is returning the wisent to the wild. The wisent ignored us at one end of their ample enclosure but came rushing over at the other end. I think it was the piles of acorns at our feet they were after. I obliged–after all, you’re allowed to feed the animals here, a huge difference from U.S. wildlife facilities.

What’s peculiar is I wrote to some German tourism office before we left asking about chances to see wild animals. One wrote back that the Rhine isn’t known for fallow deer; it’s known for wine. Gee, thanks. I think these sleepy wildparks would be a big hit with American tourists if they knew they were there.

Got any information on wildparks–or other good places to see animals in Europe? Let me know, so I can map them at animaltourism.com.

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