Travel Wildlife

Meeting the wildlife of the Alps in Innsbruck

Innsbruck is a quite literal jumping off point for the mountains and to be here and engage in these activities you need money. I did not have money so I went to the zoo instead.

I stayed at a hostel and it is so safe here that you didn’t even need a key, they just left the door open. Although there were not many showers so once the hikers and sporty people got back, the queues got pretty long.

The zoo was up a mountain so I walked to it and it was, of course, called the Alpenzoo. They’re all pretty much animals that live in the Alps. This is a good opportunity to talk about the animals of the Alps.

There are 30,000 animal species in the Alps that have been identified so far, including 80 mammals, 80 fish species, 200 bird species (that nest), 15 reptiles, 21 amphibian and around 20,000 invertebrates.

One of the best known hooved mammals (ungulates) is the Ibex, especially the Alpine Ibex that many people think of as a mountain goat. There are five species of Ibex and two are at risk of extinction, there is one that is already extinct and that is the Pyrenean Ibex from Spain.

The interesting thing about the Pyrenean Ibex is that it was resurrected. For seven minutes. They used the same method as that used to create Dolly the sheep in 1997. The theory is straightforward – suck the nucleus out of the cell and replace it with the new animal then implant it in a suitable womb. The ibex sadly succumbed to a lung infection.

New York ’s natural history museum stores tissue samples of various species, something that they do for important genetic research and there are no specific plans to use these for cloning purposes.

In an ideal world, we shouldn’t have to resort to ‘resurrection’ as it shouldn’t get to that point. But as more and more species become extinct, the more that seems like an idealistic pipe dream. It serves as an insurance policy against extinction but that’s only if it works, which it may well do one day but there is no consensus as yet. The lab is a Noah’s Ark but with nitrogen-cooled vats.

One of the most famous carnivores is the Eurasian lynx. There are now believed to be 100 in the Alps after a reintroduction programme as they were extinct in Switzerland.

There is now a ‘link the lynx’ to join together habitat to create a more viable population with enough space to hunt and breed. The population fell due to logging for farmland, deer-hunting taking away their food supply and being killed by farmers.

There are plans to reintroduce the lynx to the UK in the Kielder forests in Northumberland bordering Scotland, which would be a fantastic thing to balance our ecosystem by controlling deer numbers. They are incredibly beautiful but ultimately secretive creatures and I hope that we can learn about them even if we rarely see them.

Europe’s carnivores – bears, wolves and the lynx are causing problems for farmers and shepherds by picking off animals from their herds. However, help is at hand for herders as work is being done to use traditional guard dogs bred to stand their ground against predators to flocks.

Fencing is also being used to separate the domestic from the wild. Together these simple yet effective strategies should dramatically reduce interactions between livestock and predators.

I spent two days in Innsbruck which was one day too long given that I could afford any of the expensive activities on offer, like adventure sports and skiing in the winter. I skipped Liechtenstein to go to Switzerland, but I do visit Liechtenstein so never fear!


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