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Wildparks All Over Germany and Europe

When I was in Germany a few weeks ago I got to visit Saarbrücken Wildpark, which confused me. In the middle of a forest were huge pens for native animals. No addmission charge, just come on in, enjoy the animals or the woods. I wondered how this place could survive if the animals weren’t producing food.

“By the way, the animals are not supposed to be eaten!” says Michael Wagner, head of Saarbrucken’s forestry department. All the Germans I mentioned this to were equally appalled at my assumption.

The animals are there neither to be rescued nor eaten, but just for people to enjoy. “The Wildpark is intended as a greenbelt recreation area for the citizens of Saarbrücken, especially for families with children,” he says. They also have a geology-themed trail. Even though the center isn’t set up specifically for animal welfare, they do sometimes take in a few orphans, Wagner says. And they are part of the important project to recover the wisent. Only one herd of the European bison was left in the Polish woods after World War II, but there are now several thousand because of an elaborately managed breeding exchange program across Europe.

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It’s fantastic that Germans and other Europeans have recognized that native animals in their natural environment (or a close enough approximation) are just fun to see. I wish we had wildparks here. The wildparks are all over the place. ZooInfos lists 144 native wildlife parks in Germany; 29 in Austria and 16 in Switzerland.

The wildparks each have their own quirky history shaped by historical events and people who either wanted to hunt or preserve a species (or both). Many started as private hunting preserves of the wealthy, then after a war, revolution or gift, they fell to public hands.

France has parc animaler (animal parks), but it doesn’t seem like there are as many (ZoosInfo lists only 15). This Safari Train one lets people see bison and ostrich on the range, then buy their meat.
I’m still a little confused by the new categories. There are zoos, tierparks (translation: zoo), wildparks and native wildlife parks. They have deer parks and vogelpark (birds). And then all kinds of specialty wildparks:
The Neanderthal Wildpark features wisent and two other animals that people have tried to breed back from extinction, the auloch (a primitive cattle breed) and the tarpan (a horse ancestor).

Wildparks like these show that people would love to go see native animals if given the chance.

See more animals in Europe

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