Spring in the forest: Enjoying nature with care

Frühling im Wald: Rücksichtsvoll die Natur genießen

A conversation with Eva Lindenschmidt from TIERART

by Tanita Steckel

Spring is here, the bad weather is slowly disappearing and we feel like being outside. What's nicer than in the forest hammock open up, swing away and escape everyday life for a bit?

But there is already a lot going on in the forest, especially in spring. Because: It's not just us humans who are drawn back out into nature. Nature itself literally comes back to life. Trees sprout, flowers bloom and animals have offspring. And of course we don't want to bother you. But how do you disturb as little as possible? We spoke to Eva Lindenschmidt from the TIERART project about this.

Ms. Lindenschmidt, please introduce yourself and the project to our readers.

Eva LindenschmidtMy name is Eva Lindenschmidt, I am 38 years old and a qualified biologist. I have been working at TIERART since 2013 and am now the deputy operations manager. Since I come from the region right here, it was an absolute stroke of luck to find my absolute dream job right on my doorstep.

Every year, the TIERART wildlife station takes care of hundreds of injured or orphaned native wild animals that are released back into the wild after they have been successfully reared or given medical care. Animals that can no longer be released into the wild for various reasons are permanently cared for in species-appropriate enclosures at our 14-hectare station in the Southwest Palatinate.

Photo: Private

The association TIERART e.V. was founded in 1999 and has been cooperating with the animal welfare foundation FOUR PAWS since 2013, with whose support a more than 3000m² facility for confiscated big cats from illegal private keeping or circuses could be opened in 2015. Four tigers, a puma and an African serval currently live permanently at TIERART. In addition, more than 90 native wild and so-called farm animals are permanently cared for here, i.e. foxes and raccoons, but also more than 30 sheep from poor husbandry.

Is there something about animal welfare that you are particularly passionate about?

The work in animal welfare is very varied and fulfilling. You are confronted with many sad fates and unfortunately you cannot always help, which is sometimes stressful. But it is an indescribable feeling to save animals in need and to stand up for those who cannot help themselves. It doesn't matter whether you are allowed to release a wild cat, a fox or a squirrel back into the wild after it has been successfully reared, or whether you are saving a former circus tiger from being put to sleep and being able to offer it a species-appropriate home for life - the reward for our work are precisely these moments.

Tigerin Varvara by TIERART

My absolute highlight was the moment when the former Bulgarian circus tiger Varvara entered her new outdoor enclosure for the first time after 12 years in a tiny 10m² circus wagon with bars and was allowed to feel the grass under her paws.

Photo: © ANIMAL

There is certainly a lot to do in spring: after all, our native wild animals all give birth. When exactly does this start?

Depending on the weather, the breeding and settling season sometimes begins as early as February. The first squirrels, hares and foxes can be born very early in the year. However, most young wild animals are born from March/April onwards. These include wild cats and martens. The first fawns or young raccoons can often be seen from the end of April/beginning of May.

Junges Eichhörnchen by Henri SchuhJungfüchse by Henri SchuhMarder Jungtier by Henri Schuh
Photos: Henri Schuh

Where should I not hang my hammock at the moment? Are there certain places that the animals prefer to give birth to their young?

When giving birth to their young, wild animals primarily look for sheltered areas in order to avoid attracting the attention of predators in this critical and vulnerable situation. While precocial wild rabbits, foxes or badgers give birth to their young in underground burrows and look after them there for the first time, precocial animals such as deer or hares are born unprotected and e.g. laid down in long grass, where they remain motionless. Due to their lack of their own smell, they are protected from being tracked down by predators. The mothers return briefly every few hours to suckle and then go away so as not to draw attention to the young.

What should I consider as a visitor to the forest so as not to get in the way of the animals?

Creatures that are active at dusk and at night, in particular, like to withdraw into the thicket during the day and could be startled by people intruding. Especially in spring, walkers should not leave the forest paths to give the animals their retreat and resting areas. Disturbances can have far-reaching consequences, especially during the young animal period. Dogs should definitely be kept on a leash, at least during the spring and summer months. Every year there are many injuries to young wild animals caused by free-roaming dogs, which could easily be avoided. So that nocturnal forest dwellers can search for food or hunt for prey undisturbed in meadows and fields, walkers should not be in the forest after dusk.

Okay, but if I'm doing all this and a wild boar mother suddenly stands in front of me: How do I behave correctly?

Wild animals are naturally afraid of humans and avoid contact, so direct encounters with them are rare. They smell us long before we notice them and withdraw immediately to protected areas. They are generally not aggressive towards humans. In certain situations, however, caution may be required, such as when encountering wild boar. They are very widespread in our forests and now also in cities and settlements and are often active both during the day and at night. With the help of their excellent sense of smell, they notice approaching people from a great distance and run away. Wild boars are peaceful animals, but leading sows - i.e. female animals with piglets - can react aggressively if they fear danger for their offspring.Photo: Jonathan Kemper via Unsplash

When encountering wild boars, it is generally advisable not to panic or even run away, but to remain calm and leave their surroundings without hectic. Bachen with offspring should never be approached or placed between mother and piglets to avoid provoking an attack. When looking for mushrooms in the thicket or wandering through corn fields, it can happen that you unexpectedly come across such a family and are threatened or, in rare cases, even attacked. For your own safety and also out of consideration for the resting areas of wild boar and Co., forest paths and hiking routes should therefore not be left.

And what do I do if I find a supposedly abandoned animal child in the forest?

Anyone who sights wild animals with their offspring should immediately and quietly move away. This also applies if young animals are found without their mother. For example, hares or deer often leave their young alone for many hours a day. They return periodically to suckle, but then quickly leave to forage and avoid drawing the attention of potential predators to the young. In the meantime, the little ones remain motionless in the grass and usually don't run away when someone approaches. This is perfectly normal and no reason to pick up or touch these animals. The rule here is to remove it quickly in order to avoid any stress for the animal or even to chase away the nearby mother.

Rehkitz Kalle by Eva Lindenschmidt

Photo: Eva Lindenschmidt

Anyone who finds a supposedly sick, injured or orphaned wild animal and is unsure whether it needs human help should first seek the advice of an expert before taking action and possibly collecting the animal for no reason. Contacts in such cases are wildlife stations, local nature conservation or animal protection associations, foresters, hunters or the police. Human proximity and touch causes significant stress in wildlife. Injured animals in particular, which also suffer from pain, can panic, injure themselves even more or even bite hard.

How do wildlife stations like TIERART help in such situations?

At TIERART we take care of animals, which in most cases have gotten into an emergency situation due to human misconduct. The most spectacular examples are certainly exotic animals like the tiger, which FOUR PAWS rescues from illegal private keeping or catastrophic keeping and brings to us. But domestic animals can also quickly become life-threatening if, for example, hedgehogs are injured in the garden by robotic lawnmowers or fox cubs are found helpless next to their mother who has been run over. However, most animals end up with us every year for no reason and due to a misunderstood love of animals or ignorance on the part of the people. Especially young hares or fawns are usually collected without hesitation if the mother cannot be sighted in the immediate vicinity. This is completely normal. We would like expert advice to be sought first when locating young wild animals if you feel unsure about the situation and don't know what to do.

Regardless of the season: How do I behave as a guest in the forest so that not only do I have a great time there, but it is also as stress-free as possible for forest animals?

Anyone looking for relaxation outside in nature should be careful not to disturb or endanger our native wild animals in their habitat and to take appropriate consideration of their resting and retreat areas. Dogs should be on a leash – at least when they are young – and paths should not be left.

It should also be a matter of course not to leave any rubbish in the forest. Discarded cans or plastic bags not only pollute our environment, they can also pose a risk to animals that can become entangled or injured. Glass bottles or discarded cigarettes can even trigger forest fires in summer.

Encountering a wild animal that you can observe from a safe distance in its natural environment can be a very special highlight and extraordinary experience on a trip into nature. However, you should always be careful to keep your distance and not startle or disturb the animals.

Which native animals do you think are the most popular in the public image? most misunderstood?

The red fox. He is labeled as a chicken thief and a carrier of disease and is heavily hunted. In 2020, more than 454,000 foxes were shot in Germany. The fox is still directly associated with the topic of rabies. Especially if you meet a fox on the outskirts or in the village, for example, who doesn’t immediately run away in panic, but is curious about garbage cans or compost heaps in search of food. Germany has been rabies-free since 2008 and foxes are smart animals. Of course, they like to use easily accessible food sources in settlements and gardens where no one is hunting them and quickly lose their natural shyness here. Foxes are highly interesting, beautiful animals with an exciting social and family life.

They also play an important role in our ecosystem as the “health police” of the forest. They feed up to 90% on mice, which can transmit diseases or damage crops, eat carrion or take weak and sick individuals (e.g. sick rabbits and deer) from the stock.

Why do we actually find typical forest animals such as foxes more and more in the cities? For us humans, the trend seems to be the other way around - to flee the city and go to the country.

Foxes are cultural followers. Just like other wild animals, they are becoming increasingly close to humans. Wherever man offers the fox something to eat - intentionally or unintentionally - it finds readily available food. Cat food that is freely available on the terrace, compost heaps, yellow bags or the like - all of these naturally attract him. In some cases, foxes are also specifically fed by residents - it's nice to be able to observe such a wild animal up close in the garden!Rotfuchs by Panagiotis Retoulas

Photo: Panagiotis Retoulas

However, for the sake of the animal, it is strongly discouraged. Foxes quickly realize that they are not threatened by humans and that no one hunts them in settlements. They are increasingly losing their natural shyness. This in turn often leads to the assumption that "something is wrong" with the fox. The fear of attacks, rabies, fox tapeworm or other diseases quickly creeps up on the residents. In the end, voices were raised that the "conspicuous" fox in the village posed a risk to people and domestic animals and had to be caught or even shot...

Problems of this kind can be avoided by not giving the animals special incentives to be around humans. Feeding should generally be avoided. And if you should actually come across a healthy, curious fox on the road, that's no reason to worry - especially in rural areas near the forest.

Ms. Lindenschmidt, thank you very much for the insightful interview and wish you and TIERART all the best for your important work!

So that you don't forget Eva Lindenschmidt's tips for your next outdoor adventure with HANG, we have put together a practical checklist for you. Just save it on your cell phone and off you go!