Spotting Rare Wild Animals in Germany

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Wolves, big cats, colorful birds: Anyone craving a safari doesn't have to visit Africa -- with a few tricks, rare animals can be tracked down in Germany too. SPIEGEL ONLINE presents 10 destinations for viewing especially shy native species.

The hoopoe is an impressive-looking bird with its long beak, red plumage, black-and-white striped wings and tail, and exotic crown. "If you come along with me, you're pretty sure to spot a hoopoe," says Engelbert Mayer of the Kaiserstuhl wildlife conservation association in south-western Germany. He has been organizing excursions to see the rare bird for years.

The migrant hoopoe is currently heading south and will be back next March. The male returns to the breeding place he chose the previous autumn. He'll sit there and call until a female flutters by to mate. They breed in holes in tree trunks or in small sheds.

The Kaiserstuhl, a range of low mountains, has had a conservation program for the hoopoe for the last 23 years, and its population has grown from a handful of pairs to more than 100 as a result. Mayer and his colleagues have put up breeding boxes, which is why the ornithologist knows the best places for observing the attractive birds.

"The special thing about the hoopoe is his looks," says Mayer, "especially when he spreads his fan." It takes a lot of concentration to witness the spectacle. When the hoopoe approaches the nest or flies out of it, it always briefly sits down somewhere nearby. That's the moment. Only when it sits down does it spread its fan. When it's sitting, it folds its feathers back down.

Just Passing Through -- Cranes Near Berlin With its long legs, black-and-white feathers and red crown, the crane is an elegant species. In the 1970s it was almost extinct in Germany with fewer than 600 pairs. But the number of cranes has grown tenfold since then.

In autumn, the cranes leave Germany, Scandinavia and eastern Europe to head for sunnier climes. The birds are among the few beneficiaries of global warming. Because the winters in Europe are getting milder, many of them no longer bother to make the dangerous journey all the way to Africa, and spend the winter in Germany instead.

"The autumn is the best time to watch cranes," says Henrik Watzke, a wildlife expert from Linum near Berlin. "We get up to 80,000 birds in a single day here." The area around Linum is one of the biggest inland resting areas for cranes in central Europe. Watzke runs a group that provides regular crane tours from Sept. 24 until Nov. 13.

During the day, the birds stand in the harvested fields, eating, resting and cleaning themselves in preparation for their long journey south. They sleep at night in the shallow waters. "The evening mass takeoff to the sleeping areas is a fantastic spectacle," says Watzke. "Tens of thousands of cranes crowd the sky and emit ther typical trumpet-like calls. It's an incredible atmosphere."

Hard-working Beavers

Beaver meat is tasty and their fur is warm -- two reasons why the beaver almost became extinct in Germany by the end of the 19th century. Conservation projects and targeted repopulation have increased their numbers since then, and there are many places where they can be observed, such as the "Dübener Heide" nature park near Leipzig in the eastern state of Saxony, or the "Feldberger Seenlandschaft" park in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

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