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.

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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

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