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.

View Animaltourism.com Europe in a larger map

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.

Keep reading Wildparks All Over Germany and Europe


Hamburg’s Swan Boats Escort Birds to Warm Winter Pond

Every winter since 1674, Hamburg’s full-time “swan father” has taken care of its flock of 120 mute swans (Cygnus olor). The current swan father, Olaf Nieß, uses blue motorboats loaded with hay to ferry the flock to a pond that’s kept free of ice. The city also gives the Hamburg Schwanenwesen winter food and even their own website, too. The idea goes back to a myth that as long as one swan lived in Hamburg the city would prosper.Olaf Nieß, who inherited the job from his father, learned that he only has to move the young, difficult swans. The rest know the routine. When he shows up with his blue boats labelled in emergency services type lettering ” Schwan” (swan) on Schwanenvesen (Swan Boat), they go to their winter place. He catches the unccoperative swan over two or three days, tying their feet with a velcro strap and laying them gently on the straw. The swans stay in Eppendorfer Mill Pond, which the city keeps from freezing over by pumping the warmer water from the bottom to the top. Other migrating geese stop by, too. They forage a little for themselves, but the city makes sure they have grain. Then in March, when the main water area is ice free again. Olaf Nieß told the Hamburg Morgen Post that the flock stays at about 120 because some chicks naturally die off. Some swans do get removed–but just to be sent as goodwill gifts around the world. The only real trouble the swans face is flying

Keep reading Hamburg’s Swan Boats Escort Birds to Warm Winter Pond

Paris Builds Contraceptive Communes for Pigeons

Paris loves pigeons

When I went to Paris recently I was surprised to see what looked like a beyond-huge pigeon house in a pocket park in Montmarte, not far from Sacre Couer. Did pigeons, detested throughout the world, find a warm welcome from Parisiennes? Were they like the Jerry Lewis of birds?Well, not quite.The pigeons like the giant communes, where they live comfortably in groups of up to 200. But it’s a trap. They’re designed so the pigeons don’t poop on buildings. And every week or so someone from a pest control company comes in and shakes their eggs so they won’t have baby pigeons.They do allow some reproduction. A Bloomberg report seems to say they let one egg per nest hatch. Le Figaro seems to say that workers let the first brood of each pair (La première couvée de chaque couple) hatch, then shake all the rest. Either way, it amounts to a lot of pigeons not being born, but a good life for those who do hatch.The League for the Protection of Birds [Oiseaux] (LPO) likes the plan. The Humane Society of the United States has been pushing contraceptive as the most sane, least cruel strategy for dealing with populations of animals that people find annoying.The big catch? Those fancy houses cost a lot of money. Like 20,000 euros ($30,000) to build and another 5,000 euros ($7,500) to maintain. But just one experimental house up five years is supposed to have prevented the birth of 5,000 pigeons. Depending on

Keep reading Paris Builds Contraceptive Communes for Pigeons

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

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

A Scourge of Bunny Rabbits?

Stadspark (City Park) in Antwerp, Belgium, has bunnies like Central Park has squirrels. At first I didn’t believe a local who told me of the roaming rabbits, but they aren’t hard to find. In fact, they were hard to miss. Black, white, multi-color rabbits that had clearly been released from careless pet owners, nonchalantly gathered in clusters and hopped across paths.

Antwerp is not alone. It’s just one of many places around the world facing a surging rabbit population. Stockholm parks managers kill thousands of rabbits a year, so many that this year they decided to start burning them as fuel. England is worried of a rabbit surge. Even Mike Ballast, the composer who wrote theme song for the embattled rabbits of Watership Down, has been wiping out rabbits on his estate. In British Columbia, the town of Kelowna has been hunting bunnies with air rifles, but will now catch them and try to give them to rabbit rescue groups or neuter them like feral cats.

What’s going on here? There are two kinds of rabbits: wild and dumped pets.Both groups are benefiting from some changes: in Europe 95% of rabbits were wiped out by the myxomatosis virus in the 1950s. But resistant rabbits thrived and over the decades the population came back to levels not seen in many people’s lifetimes. Some also think global warming lets them overwinter in places that were once inhospitable. And there’s the lack of natural predators. Or even unnatural predators, like unleashed

Keep reading A Scourge of Bunny Rabbits?

Polar Bears Arrive in Iceland

Iceland is starting to get polar bears, but so far is just getting rid of them. Two polar bears have shown up in the last two weeks on the island that’s hundreds of miles away from where polar bears usually live, Discovery reported.

Not knowing what to do with the first one, they shot it. They’re trying to catch the second one and move it to Greenland. Icelandic billionaire Thor BjorgolfssonBjoergulfur Thor Bjoergulfsson has volunteered to pay for the move so that Icelandic authorities don’t shoot the second bear.

Polar bears would normally be pouncing on seals from polar ice eating seals, but that ice melt has caused them to look for other territory. The one in Iceland was seen eating eggs and birds.

Who knows whether the polar bear could survive on Iceland, which because of cold and an over-farming environmental disaster has very few plants and animals. But the best away to find out would be to let them try. It’s not like we’re talking about a heavily populated area here–it’s Iceland, northern Iceland. When I went to Iceland one of the few disappointments was how little wildlife they had. Polar bears in Iceland would be a big tourist attraction.

Where to See Wildlife in EuropeWhere to See Bears

To see more animals go to animaltourism.com

Unicorn Deer in Italy

A unicorn-like deer is drawing animal tourists to the the Italian Center for Natural Sciences (Centro di Scienze Natural) outside Prato, which is in turn outside Florence.The unicorn is really a male one-year-old Roe deer, so don’t expect to see rainbows and sparkles behind him. His twin has the regular two antler.

The deer has some kind of genetic flaw, but it’s even special in that. The AP’s Marta Falconi reports that even deer with one antler tend to have it on one side. Plus, this guy’s antler looks like a little horn.

The center seems to be handling the occassion with smile. They named him Unicorn. And the director Gilberto Tozzi says: “This is fantasy becoming reality.”

Where Else to See Wildlife in EuropeWhere You Can See Deer and Elk

View Larger Map

To see more animals go to animaltourism.com