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VIENNA

Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Despite being Austria's capital and by far its largest city, Vienna retained much of its green areas. The wildlife appreciates it.

red fox in the woods
Foxes are some of Vienna's wild residents that can be found all over Austria's capital (Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash)

Vienna is Austria’s capital and one of the five most populous cities in the European Union. Still, one of the reasons why it often tops quality of life lists is how green it is.

Vienna is definitely one of the best cities to live not only for humans but also for wild animals.

Though Vienna is home to the world’s oldest zoo, Schönbrunn Zoo, it is possible to find wild animals all over the city. There are hundreds of sightings of foxes, hedgehogs, deer, and much other unique wildlife literally walking on the Viennese streets – but particularly in the capital’s parks and green areas.

READ ALSO: Six of the best things to do in spring in Vienna

Here are five of the most common wild animals in the city – and a few places where they can be found.

Foxes

Foxes are a particularly beloved wild animal, and even though they are nocturnal and shy, many Viennese have already seen one or two striding by in the city.

They can be spotted in parks, including Schönbrunn, but also sometimes on the city streets and private gardens. A few use basements as breeding sites, and entire families have even been (adorably) caught on camera.

Wild boar

The wild boars are also timid but primarily diurnal animals. They are more common in lowlands and floodplain areas and can be spotted in a few Viennese parks, including the Vienna Woods.

Boars are generally harmless, but if threatened, especially when they have offspring, they could become dangerous. Therefore, hikers are asked to be particularly careful during the spring months, when boars care for their newborns, and always walk with dogs on leashes.

Deer

Deers are also very lovable and shy diurnal animals.

They can be seen in the wild in many parks in Vienna, including Prater and Lobau. One place to see them almost guaranteed is Lainzer Tiergarten, where they are in a protected and fenced environment. They also famously stroll through Vienna’s Central Cemetery.

READ ALSO: The best spots to recharge on the weekend in Vienna

Beaver

Beavers are busy animals living close to water areas. They are not as common in Vienna but have been seen in some areas of the Danube – though their constructions are more easily spotted. According to Vienna’s Tourist Information, there are 200 beavers in the Lobau.

Bunnies

Rabbits, hares, and snow bunnies are very common in Vienna as well, but the fast animals are not so easy to spot. They are more commonly seen by dusk, and in large fields, like Marchfeldkanau or on the capital’s outskirts.

Other popular animals

Many species of small mammals can be found even in regular Viennese streets.

Squirrels, of course, are easy to spot, especially in parks like Stadtpark or even small neighbourhood parks.

The nocturnal hedgehogs are also very popular in Vienna and can be seen even on busy streets at night – just watch the green areas carefully.

Just like hedgehogs, bats can also be observed on the Vienna nights, almost everywhere where there are trees (so, almost anywhere in Vienna). However, there are no blood-sucking bats in Europe, and these Viennese inhabitants eat almost exclusively insects.

READ ALSO: Here are over 20 things you can do in Vienna for free

Vienna is also host to dozens of bird species (including woodpeckers, and you can hear them in the city), countless bugs, and numerous plant species. Different species of ducks are also very popular and common in parks with bodies of water, including Danube parks and Stadtpark.

Though all these animals can seem quite cute and even harmless, wild animals should never be approached; they should never be fed. For their own good, they must keep a dose of fear from humans to keep them from approaching people, their pets, and their trash.

If you see a wild animal, in most cases, you should leave it alone and not approach it. However, if necessary, you can also get advice and help by calling Vienna’s wildlife service, especially if you see an injured or distressed wild animal.

The number is +43 1 4000-49090, and they are available daily (including weekends and public holidays) from 7:30am to 10pm.

Outside these hours, you can contact the wildlife service in acute emergencies via the permanent technical assistance of the city of Vienna, telephone: +43 1 4000-8280.

You can also find more information about Wildlife in Vienna at the Stadt Wien website.

Useful vocabulary (and proof that the German language is fantastic)

Fox – Fuchs
Wild boar – Wildschwein (Schwein also means pig)
Deer – Reh
Beaver – Biber
Wild bunny – Wildkaninchen
Squirrel – Eichhörnchen (and one of the best German tongue-twisters)
Hedgehog – Igel
Bat – Fledermaus (this literally translates to flying mouse)

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TOURISM

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

Vienna's Fiaker - the horse-drawn carriages seen across the city's streets for centuries - are popular with tourists, but animal rights advocates say the practice is cruel, particularly as temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

The image of two horses carrying a carriage full of tourists mesmerised by beautiful Austrian sights is quite a common one, particularly in Vienna.

The Fiaker, which is the Austrian name (borrowed from French) for the set of two horses, plus a carriage and coachman, are quite popular and represent an important part of Viennese history.

The first license for a Fiaker was granted in the capital around 1700. They rose in popularity before the advent of cars in the 1900s.

“They are just as much a part of Vienna as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Giant Ferris Wheel: the fiakers”, according to the Vienna Tourist Board.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Now, though, the symbol for the capital has become the target of controversy. For years, animal rights groups have protested against the overworking of the animals, the stressful conditions for the horses on busy Viennese roads and the extreme heat they face in summer. 

What are the main issues raised?

For years now, several animal rights groups have protested against exploiting the animals for touristic purposes.

By Vienna regulations, the horses need to be out of the streets once temperatures reach 35C. Many groups ask for the limit to be at least 30C instead.

Additionally, the temperature base is measured at the stables, in the mostly shaded areas from where the animals leave every morning to work in Vienna’s first district, where the blazing sun and scorching pavements could make temperatures higher by several degrees.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Another issue raised by groups is that the fiaker no longer fits in a busy 21st-century capital – with its busy roads and loud cars. They claim that walking among the many vehicles and tourists of the first district is unnecessarily stressful for the horses.

A traditional Fiaker in the Viennese first district. (photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

What do the fiaker associations say?

Many representatives of the organisations reiterate that the animals are well-cared for and used to the heat.

A spokeswoman for the carriage companies asks for a round table with politicians as debates heat up, ORF reported. The veterinarian Isabella Copar, who works for two Fiaker farms, says there is no basis for the 30C regulation.

“I don’t understand that politicians make a judgment on animal welfare, even though they have no idea about the animals”, she told the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Copar mentions a 2008 study by the Veterinary school of the University of Vienna saying that after nearly 400 measurements on the animals, not a single case of “heat stress” was found.

As for the infamous cases when horses have collapsed in the streets of Vienna during particularly hot days, she states that the collapses are usually due to a horse disease.

It was never possible to establish a connection with the heat. “If this happens in the stable, no one is interested,” the veterinarian said.

What is next?

The latest news in the controversy is a major one. The Health Minister, who is also Animal Protection Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens), has stated he would “welcome” a debate about a Fiaker ban.

“You should think about it, really for animal welfare reasons, whether you should expose a horse to this stress.

According to the minister, there is a question also as to whether the use of the carriages fits in the context of a large city at all. “I think that’s a bit outdated”, he said.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

There is a particular tug of war between the City and the Federal Government regarding whose responsibility it is to act on a possible ban or even tighten the rules.

Both authorities are set to talk about the issue in June. They are set to also speak with the Fiaker associations.

Vienna is unlikely to see a total ban as early as that. Still, a 30C temperature limit after which the horses would need to be sent back to stables could be heading to the capital.

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