Fauna fun: Enjoy the free-roaming animals at Saarland wildlife park
Stars and Stripes April 13, 2023
The two hours my 12-year-old son and I recently spent marveling at the wingspan of a vulture soaring overhead, laughing at playful monkeys and hand-feeding deer and goats was an ideal way to make the most of a sunny spring day in southwestern Germany.
Those experiences were among the highlights of our trip to Freisen Nature Wildlife Park, a rambling menagerie in the German state of Saarland about 15 minutes from the Army’s garrison in Baumholder and less than 40 minutes by car from Kaiserslautern.
It was like going to the zoo, but even better, since there’s plenty of opportunity to interact with the animals, many of whom are freely roaming around the 62.5-acre park.
Animal food pellets in brown paper bags are for sale at the admissions kiosk for 1.50 euros each. I’d recommend buying a bag or two for close encounters with the hungry critters around the park’s approximately 1.2-mile circular walking path.
My son fed the Valais Blackneck mountain goats from Switzerland, their shaggy fur divided about mid-belly between black and white.
The most fun was giving handouts to the free-roaming red, fallow and sika deer. Many kept a safe distance from the human onlookers, but a few hovered around the trail and ate from the palms of little hands. One feisty deer ripped open my son’s food bag, spilling pellets that would soon be eaten from the ground.
We arrived in time for the daily 3:30 p.m. “flight show” (on weekends and holidays, there’s a second one at 11 a.m.), where birds of prey swoop inches from spectators’ heads in between two falconers for food rewards.
The action was much tamer than a similar raptor show we attended six years ago at Potzberg Wildpark near Ramstein Air Base. The falconer there tossed dead baby chicks that were snagged midair by outstretched talons and ripped to shreds in a matter of seconds.
Here, the falconers gave the birds a small treat after they alighted on their arm or a wooden perch – and there were no downy feathers involved.
The show we saw included a vulture and a bald eagle. The birds followed the falconers’ lead and returned to their enclosures after stretching out their wings during a few minutes of freedom.
However, the raptors don’t always obey. One evening last spring, a young vulture named Lazy Socke “set sail,” according to a park Facebook post from May, asking people to call the park if they saw a dark brown bird with a long neck or heard a bell. The vulture returned the next morning during a flight show, the park reported.
Our show ended with a falconer holding a Eurasian eagle-owl on his arm as children petted it and parents took photos.
While we were happy to catch the flight show, we missed the raccoon and Barbary ape feedings, held daily around 2 and 2:30 p.m., respectively.
The monkeys, however, were still fun to watch in their enclosure. They wrestled, chattered their teeth as if they were laughing and groomed one another. They apparently didn’t get enough to eat, because they quickly reached their hands through the small gap in the fence to accept food pellets from people.
Other animals we saw along the way included peacocks, geese, chickens, kangaroos, emus, foxes, llamas, raccoon dogs and two very pregnant donkeys. We saw information boards with photos of adorable pot-bellied pigs, but the park says on its website it had to give up the pigs due to African swine fever. Moose are also regular residents, but they’re staying at a partner park due to renovations on their enclosure.
We ended our walk around the park with some ice cream at the snack bar. You can also get warm food and drinks and there’s a small gift shop.
My son barely remembered our visit to Potzberg when he was six, despite the violent raptor show, but I think he’ll remember this visit. He even agreed that the animal encounters were much more fun than being at home playing video games.
Directions: From Kaiserslautern, take A62 direction Trier, exit at Freisen, then continue 1.5 miles to Rueckweiler. From the Freisen exit, follow he signs posted for the wildlife park. The address: Naturwildpark Freisen Hermbacherhof 66629 Freisen.
Times: From March 1 to Nov. 6, open at 9 a.m.; last entry at 5:30 p.m., park closes at 7 p.m. From Nov. 7 to the end of February, park opens at 10 a.m.; last entry at 4:30 p.m., park closes at 5 p.m. Raptor show daily at 3:30 p.m.; on weekends and holidays a second show is at 11 a.m. Raccoon feeding daily at 2 p.m. and Barbary ape feeding at 2:30 p.m., daily.
Cost: Adults 11 euros, children 3 to 12 years, 6.50 euros; food pellets for animals cost 1.50 euros. Dogs 1 euro, must be on leash. Annual passes available. Credit cards are accepted.
Food: Food and drinks available at small snack bar.
Information: Online: natur-wildpark-freisen.de; Phone: +49 (0) 170-7421800