The Anholter Schweiz park’s official name is Leopold Park after its founder prince Leopold zu Salm-Salm. Its popular name came about because the park supposed to be a copy of Lake Lucerne and its surroundings in Switzerland. And the German word for Switzerland is Schweiz, while Anholt is the municipality where the park is located.
The official establishment and naming of the park by prince Leopold (1838−1908) was done on 24 April 1892. The park has always been directly connected to the gardens of the Salm-Salm family’s palace, the Wasserburg Anholt, via a meadow, which is turned into a golf course nowadays.
Prince Leopold had the park created as a remembrance of his honeymoon to Switzerland. In the nearby forested area and wetlands garden designer Biesenbach dug out a lake shaped like Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee) and built hills on its shores. Rocks, boulders and wood came to Anholt by boat via the river, while horse and carriage covered the last stage of the trip. In order to be able to transport the boulders to its destination across the wetland area they used a specially designed light railway track. The rock formations were copied as accurately as possible, which required rocks that were hard to find in the immediate vicinity.
In the centre of the lake an island was created that could only be reached by a small ferry. On the island a two-story chalet was erected that had been designed in Interlaken in Switzerland and assembled in Anholt by the local carpenter. Years later, the island was made better accessible via a boardwalk, and the chalet is now the Swiss House (‘Schweizer Häuschen’) where you can wine and dine during the park’s opening hours.
The park around the lake was mainly an alpine garden with a great variety of vegetation such as alpine primroses, gentian, black pine trees, cedar trees, rhododendron, fir trees, cypress tree and others.
Already in 1900 the Leopold Park was extended. Land was bought, water surfaces enlarged and paths were built. Also at that time deer were introduced for the first time. In addition 2,500 oaks and alders, and 5,500 spruce and ash trees were planted. Simultaneously, the park was opened to the general public, which required the attendance of a park warden. However, from then on the Park was gradually transferred into a game reserve and became a popular hunting ground with the Swiss House as the centre.
After World War II when the Park was heavily damaged prince Nikolaus zu Salm-Salm decided to rebuild the area, and opened it to the public as Wildlife Park Anholter Schweiz in 1968. The prince indicated that only indigenous animal species should be kept at the Park.
To honour the 100th year anniversary of the Park, now listed as a historic and to be preserved area — and still part of the entire estate owned by the Salm-Salm family, prince Carl Phillip decided on a further extension. Between 1990 and 1993 the current Wildlife Park of 56 hectares was created with animal species living in their natural habitats.
(Source: Information panel at Biotopwildpark Anholter Schweiz; website Biotopwildpark Anholter Schweiz; Wikipedia)
Again it is beautiful weather when I visit the wildlife park for the second time, only this time it’s spring and not autumn. So, instead of brownish-red colours the surroundings turns green, while the actual temperatures makes you want to take off your coat. One major change took place since autumn 2014, the cage with the red squirrel near the entrance has been removed. In my opinion having such a species on display in this environment was redundant anyway, so no loss to the collection.
Another change I recognise are the lively European polecats (Mustela putorius) in the enclosure that supposedly housed minks — another member of the mustelidae family — during my previous visit. But a little research tells me that the polecats were introduced to this exhibit at 4 November 2014, only three days after my visit then. In the adjacent enclosure, with a small footpath in between both exhibits, black swans and ruddy shelducks are still making their showy appearance.
A ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) response to the zookeeper’s truck:
Strangely enough, both these enclosures have a similar design. A large pond surrounded by some land. This is quite logical for the swans and ducks of course, but the European polecat is a ground-dwelling predator that doesn’t like to swim. If their enclosure is fit for purpose, with the pond accounting for over 50% of the available space, is questionable. In the wild they can adapt to a lot of different habitats though, because they are not picky eaters. Therefore they can be found in a widespread area of Europe and even Morocco. Their habitat in the wild often comprises water, including river banks and swamps. So, this might explain their ‘happy’ appearance in the video, or could the thought of food that is coming have something to do with this.
The enclosure of the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), the polecats’ neighbour, smells more attractive than last time — when a fetid odour of the water due to the decay of organic material was noticeable. This time I am lucky enough to see one of the otters exploring the exhibit. In a relaxed manner he swims around in both interconnected ponds as if it is his regular afternoon stroll.
The sheer size of Anholter Schweiz wildlife park and the number of enclosures has made it possible to leave many parts of the area more or less untouched, and still provide most of the animals with a spacious environment. In other words you feel you walk around in a park. A park that doesn’t require you to stay on the trails. This freedom of roaming around makes it possible for me to shoot the footage of the otter you can see here, because I can walk around all of the enclosure to get the best angle. It is not an easy going footpath, so I run against a tree branch while trying to keep the otter in focus. Great fun!
The Anholter Schweiz wildlife park is officially called ‘biotope’ wildlife park, because the park is divided into different biotopes or habitats. The habitats represent several different living conditions to be found in Europe. These artificial European habitats comprises — as good as possible — species that you would encounter in these environments in the wild. When they started to keep exotic species, it became more difficult to provide suitable habitats for the animal collection, but they are doing a good job I would say. The habitats in the park that stand out in my opinion are the mire forest (‘Bruchwald’) with its ponds and creeks, the moor (‘Heide’) with the sheep, the lowlands (‘Niederungslandschaft) and the ‘falsified’ habitat that can comprise anything the management wishes.
The Bear Forest shows both the brown bears and Asian black bears enjoying their environment, either by taking a bath or snoozing and relaxing. Nothing much different at the European wild cat exhibit, though a bit more activity is seen there. The three wild cats have a nice enclosure at their disposal with a great variety of enrichment, natural and artificial. There’s a little swamp with frogs next to a variety of vegetation, dead trees and connecting trunks to allow the cats to travel on different levels. Shelters are provided, and a large pole where the keepers can hang food (meat) at the top by using wire and a pulley.
The paddocks for the hoofed animals are enormous, including the nice walk-through paddock with fallow deer, Cameroon sheep and dwarf donkeys. This area is much nicer for children to come in contact with animals than the ordinary petting zoo. I almost liked it. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to such close encounter opportunities. People will feed the animals, and not only with the food provided in the feed dispenser machines (requires a coin to get some pellets). So, unsuited food end up in the stomachs of the animals. Last year they had several deaths among the reindeer caused by this inappropriate behaviour of the visitors. And the zoo management is angry about this. They had a few panels with explicit language about people not obeying the rules about feeding the animals only food from the food dispensers — “How large should we make the sign and the font, for people to take this seriously”.
This privately owned park was opened to the public as a Wildlife Park for the first time in 1968. The current Wildlife Park of 56 hectares where animal species live in their natural habitat, however, was created between 1990 and 1993. It is probably the zoo with the lowest population density I have seen so far, and the Swiss House is definitely the most beautifully located zoo restaurant I have ever seen.
Originally, the focus of the Park was on indigenous wildlife species, but gradually they broadened their scope. For instance caused by the introduction and opening of the bear sanctuary with the Asian black bears (see Bear Forest). But you will see other species exotic to the European region, such as black swan, mandarin duck, sika deer, Cameroon sheep, raccoon, great grey owl and snowy owl.
Immediately after the entrance there’s a cage with such a native species as mentioned, the Eurasian red squirrel. In my opinion, having a native red squirrel on display is redundant because there are plenty of them to be seen in the immediate surroundings in the wild. They are not endangered yet. Though, an educative story about the North American grey squirrel as an invasive species and competitor for the red squirrel in some European countries its presence would have given meaning to the display of red squirrel. Fortunately, the squirrel’s cage doesn’t represent what you will see in the rest of this zoo. Actually it is quite the opposite, because this old-fashioned cage is very different from all the spacious enclosures you are about to see.
There are not many toilet facilities in the park. In fact only two, one at the entrance and one close to the Swiss House. So, better make sure you are ready for exploring the 56 hectares of parkland without relieving oneself or carefully plan your intermission.
Most enclosure buildings throughout the park are built in wood or have a wooden appearance, which perfectly match the forested park-like surroundings. Unfortunately, probably depending on the wind direction, the sound of traffic on the nearby motorway is clearly audible. Which is all the more noticeable because you walk in this nice forested area.
The first enclosure I encounter on my tour around the park is the one for the stone marten. It’s a regular enclosure for such species, not much different from what you see in other zoos. Except, it is a single wooden construction in the area without other enclosures nearby. From here it is a nice stroll to the black swan and duck pond, which is part of the Zoo’s interconnected ponds and streams. Next, I head for the Eurasian otter exhibit, which is most impressive. The otters (Lutra lutra) have access to two large ponds with islands and two small buildings for shelter. These buildings also are wooden constructions — on a concrete foundation because this is a wetland area — that allow visitors to have a peek at the otters while inside, and when lucky when they have pups. Although the ponds look natural, they have been dug out in this wetland area , as we know from the Zoo’s history. It seems that the otter ponds contain stagnant water, which would explain the unattractive fetid smell due to decay of organic materials. I wonder what the otters think of this smelly environment. Anyway, there was no sign of the otters inside the shelters or in the outdoor exhibits.
Opposite the otter ponds a large fenced off forest is dedicated to wolves. Except the mere size of the enclosure and several half-buried large sewer pipes for shelter there’s little enrichment available for the wolves.
Then I arrive at ‘Das Bärenwald’ (the Bear Forest), which is a 2.5 ha bear sanctuary. A similar concept like in Rhenen Zoo in the Netherlands, where bears are kept that have been rescued from poor living conditions by an organisation independent from Zoo management. The Bear Forest that is created in this 2.5 hectares area — 1.5 ha for the Asian black bears and 1 ha for the brown bears — provides the bears with everything they need for a decent life in captivity. The landscape comprises big trees for the bears to climb, hills or wooden platforms where they can watch the surroundings, and ponds where they can swim to their heart’s content. In this enriched environment the keepers hide food to force the bears express normal foraging behaviour. It is great fun to watch the bear opening up the ‘food parcels’.
Currently, there are four brown bears kept at the Zoo. One is kept separate, because she is a nervous individual that was kept in a cellar of a restaurant in Lithuania. The other three keep each other company in a forested area of about 1 ha with a beautiful large natural pond. It’s worth noting that two of the brown bears live together already for 22 years! The brown bears are encouraged to go into hibernation for about three months as they would do in the wild. A special feeding régime is used for this.
The 1.5 ha enclosure for the six Asian black bears shows more design features than the brown bear forest, less trees, more shrubs and with wooden platforms. Visitors have access to a small viewing platform at both bear enclosures.
The two specimens of the fourth large predator species in this corner of the Zoo, the Eurasian lynx, are kept opposite the wolves — in a similar large fenced off area of the original forest. In this case with an additional feature, a man-made hill that provides the cats with a higher level area to observe their hunting grounds.
In general, there’s not much artificial enrichment provided in most of the exhibits. Many enclosures are arguably large enough and comprise natural enrichment, so who needs artificial enrichment I would say.
From this section of the Zoo, which for me is the most appealing part of the wildlife park, I walk to the raccoon dog facilities in the far end corner opposite the entrance. To get there I have to cover quite some distance along the Zoo’s perimeter neighbouring a golf course. I pass along the Lünenburg moorland sheep and cross the enormous walk-through paddock with fallow deer and Cameroon sheep. In contrast to most of the other enclosures the raccoon dog is housed in a rather small exhibit, though it would fit in nicely in many other zoos.
As I am running out of time I make my way to the exit via the shortest route, which runs through what they call the lowlands biotope. It has several species on display, such as stork, marsh birds, European bison and the squirrel — which I mentioned earlier. The walk-through wetlands aviary for marsh birds is large enough for these birds to fly around and when yo have plenty of time it looks like a great place just to sit down, relax and enjoy the sight of the birds in their everyday life.
The Anholter-Schweiz wildlife park is a very enjoyable but atypical zoo. It is not a member of any zoological association, and it has not many endangered species as part of their animal collection. All of them good reasons not be involved in any breeding programme of course. Nevertheless it provides facilities for quite some species that would allow them to be a very agreeable partner in a breeding programme, I believe. The enormous size compared to the number of animals — their population density — and the variety of the vegetation creates a park-like atmosphere that makes you want to come back, if only to relax. The Swiss House is the best place in a zoo I have seen so far, to satisfy your basic needs — food and drink.
From zoological perspective I would say they could improve on the information that is provided to the visitors. The information panels are only in German and Dutch, while the website is in English as well. They do not consistently give the scientific name of the respective species, and whether or not the species is endangered requires people to read all the text, but nothing is said about the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species status. The use of icons and geographical visualisation of the species’ origin would get across the message better I think. But then again, they are not bound by the rules set out by VDZ, EAZA or WAZA, because they are not a member of those associations. This means no specific educational goals, no research support and no ex-situ conservation (captive breeding). Just provide the visitor an agreeable time while having encounters with exotic or indigenous animals. This is not what I expect of a good zoo, but I have to admit that most animals are provided a better captive environment than in quite some zoos that do belong to the respected zoo communities.
On their website they mention their membership of the German game park association — Deutsche-Wildgehege-Verband e.V. (DWV e.V.). These modern professionally run game reserves and wildlife parks are centres of excellence in animal welfare, wildlife conservation and nature conservation. This creates a knowledge base to be used by the partners and other zoological institutions for further research and education activities. So, they claim.
Hungry European polecats
The polecats are quite happy to see the zookeeper’s car (you can hear its sound in the beginning of the video). Unfortunately for them: no food this time! Though begging an unsuspecting visitor for food is worth a try, it always ends in disappointment and the best solution for all: take a nap!
Eurasian otter and its afternoon swim
One of the Eurasian otters (Lutra lutra) is exploring its exhibit. In a relaxed manner he swims around in both interconnected ponds as if it is his regular afternoon stroll.
European wildcat exploring its enclosure
The three European wildcats I saw in the enclosure aren’t camera shy. And one of them I even caught while not snoozing or showing another one of those famous cat inactivities.
These Asian black bears are very busy digesting their food!
The postprandial dip means a lot to these bears, that’s obvious. They love their after lunch drowsiness!
It will not be long before the bears at Wildlife Park Anholter Schweiz in Germany, ‘Biotopwildpark Anholter Schweiz’, will commence their hibernation. I sure hope they will be less itchy by then. The video starts with a European brown bear that likes to be on its own and wander around the premises, according the information panels at the enclosure. It seems the bear has resorted to the pond to reduce the itching. At the end of the footage one of its companions appears to be suffering a similar problem and rubs against a tree to find relief.
Moon bears feeding enrichment
The Asian black bears or Moon bears (Ursus thibetanus) have to work hard for their food at Biotopwildpark Anholter Schweiz. Different approaches are used to get access to the treats inside the cardboard tubes, but they are rewarded for their work as you can see in the video.
Eurasian otter pups
These otter pups have been born at the Wildlife Park mid-August 2011. It was the otter’s second litter that year. The pups of the first litter all died, probably due to distress caused by environmental disturbances.
(Footage credit: Nikolaus Kellermann via Vimeo)
The European wildcats including kittens, born in March 2011, have a nice enclosure at their disposal close to the bear section.
(Footage credit: Nikolaus Kellermann via Vimeo)
The Anholter Bear Forest (‘Anholter Bärenwald’) is situated within the biotope Wildlife Park Anholter Schweiz and was created in 1999.
The bears living in the Bear Forest have been rescued from poor living conditions by the International Bear Federation Deutschland e.V. (IBF), in collaboration with the German Animal Protection Association.
It all started in 1998 when the ‘Schlitzerländer Tierfreiheit’ a private zoo in Hessen, Germany, went bankrupt and the owner couldn’t afford to pay feed anymore. Three brown bears and six Asian black bears, including two cubs, were to be euthanized when IBF stepped in. The bears had lived there under cruel conditions without proper care and adequate facilities. The owner, pressurized by IBF, together with the Animal Protection Association and the local veterinarian, handed over the responsibility to take care of the bears.
The facilities, concrete caves, were cleaned and temporarily improved to allow the bears to retire and recuperate. And of course they were fed appropriately.
Then the search for a new home began. While looking for better accommodation for the bears IBF came into contact with Prince Carl Philipp zu Salm-Salm, owner of the Wildlife Park Anholter Schweiz in Isselburg. The Prince agreed to make available 2.5 hectares of forested area within the 56 hectares Wildlife park for building modern bear enclosures.
The Bear Forest that is created in this 2.5 hectares area — 1.5 ha for the Asian black bears and 1 ha for the brown bears — provides the bears with everything they need for a decent life in captivity. The landscape comprises big trees for the bears to climb, hills or wooden platforms where they can watch the surroundings, and ponds where they can swim to their heart’s content. In this enriched environment the zookeeper hides food to force the bears express normal foraging behaviour. And of course there’s a veterinarian will be consulted when illness is suspected.
Currently, 2016, four brown bears and six Asian black bears live in the Bear Forest.
(Source: website Schweizer-Häuschen; website Biotopwildpark Anholter Schweiz; website Anholter Bärenwald)
directions to Wildlife Park Anholter Schweiz
The biotope wildlifepark Anholter Schweiz (Biotopwildpark Anholter Schweiz) is located in Munsterland in the city of Isselburg, near the Dutch border.
Pferdehorster Strasse 1
by train and bus
The closest town you can get to by train is Millingen. At the Rees-Millingen Bahnhof take bus no. 61 to Bocholt. The bus runs every hour. Get off at the Vehlingen/Venderbosch stop. From there it is another 10 minutes walk along the Anholter Strasse to the Pferdehorster Strasse.
A routeplanner and timetables for all public transport services in Munsterland is available here.
The countryside around the wildlifepark is flat and easy to navigate. So, if you stay at a campsite or hotel in Germany or the Netherlands within close range of Isselburg cycling is a very nice mode of transport. The website komoot shows you the nicest routes from every place of departure.
Isselburg is located close to Motorway A3 (E35) Arnhem (NL) — Oberhausen (DE). Take exit no. 4 Rees, Kalkar, Isselburg. From there, drive towards Rees-Millingen-Anholt (near Wasserburg Anholt). Follow the signs to Wasserburg Anholt and turn right in the Pferdehorsterstrasse.
Parking is free and the car park is in front of the entrance.