In today’s episode, we’ll be talking to Sabrina Reimann who is a project leader from the Black Forest in Germany’s Alternative Wolf and Bear Park. I first met Sabrina a few years ago, when we took our first-ever group tours of vegans on a trip to Paris and Alsace. Seb discovered this place when he was doing the research for this trip. He reached out to some vegans just across the border in Alsace, and they mentioned that this place might be a good place to bring a group.
So, as I say in the podcast, it is a little bit confusing when you drive by this place as to whether this park is a zoo or a sanctuary, and Seb was also a little confused too, but on his scout, as we always do, Seb visited and chatted with staff, and it became quickly evident that this incredible place was doing so much to help bears, wolves, and lynx that have been placed in terrible situations – of course, we talk about this issue in depth in the interview.
I will never forget how excited Seb was to tell me about this incredible place and how excited he was to take groups here, in this remote area of The Black Forest that honestly would be a bit of a trek to come by yourself.
We really hope that you will check out and support the work that Sabrina and her colleagues are doing to help educate the public about the issues facing these animals when in captivity and also to help improve the relationship between bears, lynx, and especially wolves as the numbers of these animals in the wild slowly increase.
Consider also a trip to The Black Forest, whether with us on our Alsace trips or by yourselves. There are some amazing hiking trails, cute German towns and villages, ruined castles, and so on. We have been lucky enough to visit the Black Forest a few times, including when we hiked 7 or so days of The Westweg, a long-distance trail between Pforzheim and Basel a few years ago that is 288 km long in total (you stay in small hotels and little villages between each leg).
If you are stuck for an idea of a place to go, then I can’t imagine a better 10 days or so exploring The Black Forest.
In this episode we discuss:
- How the Bear and Wolf parks started.
- Why such sanctuaries are needed in Europe.
- Where the Bear and Wolf Parks are located
- The story behind one of the residents of the sanctuary
- The issues facing bears and wolves in the wild
- What you can expect when you go
- What the challenges are for the organization
- Their short and medium terms goals
- How you can support the bear and wolf park
Learn more about what we talk about
- English flyer to the park
- Alternative Wolf and Bear Park foundation website – in German
- Black Forest Park
- The Westweg Way – long-distance trail
Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode
- Best Vegan City Food Tours – Europe
- 13 Reasons to Travel the World with Friends (and not Alone)
- Vegan Christmas Market Food and Drink
- The Ultimate Vegan Guide to France
- S4 Ep 15 | France: Not as vegan unfriendly as you might think | Natalie Lynch
Connect with Sabrina
Brighde: Hi, Sabrina. Thank you so much for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast.
Sabrina: Hi, Brighde. Nice to meet you here online.
Brighde: Yeah, I’m so excited because we have gone to visit you three times at your place of work, and that’s what we’re gonna be talking about today. I dunno whether Sabrina, but we’re actually planning on going back again next year in December. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what it is that you do in the animal protection area?
Sabrina: I am leading an animal welfare project. It’s a welfare project for wild animals and we focus on three species. One is bears. The second is the wolves and the third one is the lynxes. So three animal species were formerly common in middle Europe. They were home in middle Europe, but about a few hundred years ago, people start rooting them out. they’re slowly coming back, which is a big success I think for nature conservation as well. What we do in the park is inform people about these three species. And we have about 10 hectares of forest area we build natural enclosures. So basically just a forest with a fence around it. We provide a new home for bears, wolves, and lynxes that have been mistreated by humans. So have a new home there for animals that come from circuses for animals coming out of the tourism industry in the whole of Europe, they will find, a lifelong place here a sanctuary where they can rediscover their wild instincts And that’s what we want to show people where these animals actually belong.
Brighde: Yes. The actual name is called The Alternative Bear and Wolf Park. That’s correct. Yes, the alternative is Bear Wolf Park. And I think maybe that might be a little misleading for some people that might pass by because it’s not a park at all. It’s a totally legitimate sanctuary.
Sabrina: Our name is the Alternative Wolf and Bear Park Black Forest. That’s the original name. And because we have the word park in it, people think they and visit us. Who? We have daily visitors like in a zoo. But then we want them to understand that we don’t have the animals here for marketing reasons or just to show them on a very small scale. We want people to visit us to have a nice day here, but they really have to discover the animals, in the woods, in the forest. And when the animals want to hide, they hide because they have the space, they have the bushes, they have trees, and they have a little river running through.
They have caves for hibernation. we also have a special kind of how we feed the animals seasonally and naturally so we don’t have like show feedings and of course, we are dependent by visitors, we want to, yeah, that they take a message home and that they start to also overthink their own towards these animals. So they’re like messengers their wild sisters and brothers as well. And yeah, so we are an animal welfare project and there are certain things that we don’t like about parks and zoos, that’s why we’re called alternative parks because we give these animals an alternative compared to like normal zoos and animal or wildlife parks. This name is a bit confusing at first since we’ve existed now for over 10 years, I think it’s 12 years now, even, and then the people got used to that name. At some points, it’s not so, so good to have this name because you might confuse us with a zoo or an animal park. on the other hand, our short name of us is Bear Park. And with Bear Park, we also, of course, reach like normal tourists in the region. They drop by accidentally because they think they’re going to a zoo, but then they realize this is something different than a zoo there are actually a lot of people who then really got convinced by this concept and they rethink their own behavior. They start maybe a sponsorship for our project, or we also have people who help themselves in the park when we have certain things where we need help. For example, last weekend we were building enclosures together with about 20 volunteers who came there for the weekend to help.
And so this Bear Park family is growing bigger and bigger. We just want animals to have a more natural place to live because we can’t release them back into the wild. And yeah, it’s a sad thing I would want to release them back into the wild. the thing for the very, very far future is that maybe at one point we are not needed anymore. We have requests every week coming in from all over Europe, a lot of animals in private hands, small zoo enclosures, small animal park enclosures or mistreated abroad. We have selfie bears from Albania who found a new home here. We have old circus bears who found a new home here. We want to tell the stories of these animals and hopefully, our society will change at one point.
Brighde: I think it’s quite funny how you trick people into coming into the park and then they get this big wham of education. I really want vegans who might look at this, the name of this place when they drive by, for example, and just assume that it’s some sort of zoo, But, it is absolutely not. The work that you are all doing there is absolutely incredible. So you have several of these Alternative Bear and Wolf Parks can you describe where they are?
Sabrina: We have two of them. One is where I’m right now here in the south of Germany, in the Black Forest region. , The next bigger city is Freudenstadt and it’s about 20 kilometers away. It’s a very remote valley, very beautiful with a nice waterfall and also a nice lake, which you can. also when you’re here. Another animal welfare project that is run by us that is in the state of Thuringen so it’s more in the northeast of Germany. The town where it’s located is called Wolbis so we have two animal welfare projects by the same foundation.
Brighde: So you were a little bit late to our call because you had a little bear emergency. So, this cheeky little young bear. You were recounting to me, got very excited about digging, and were trying to dig out. Can you tell me a little bit about this bear’s History? Like how did he end up with you over at The Alternative Bear and Wolf Park?
Sabrina: Yeah, I came into this interview you don’t see the dirt on my hiking boots because I was inside the enclosure and we had to prepare. His little construction site because he was digging a hole very near the fence I’m talking about a young bear. His name is Agonis. He’s now, he will turn seven years in January. So, according to biology, he’s a grown-up, but because of his history, he’s still very juvenile in his behavior. he came from and in Albania, we think, we suppose that he has been born in the wild and that then hunters came, killed his mother took the little baby bear another organization in Albania found him where he was chained, in a restaurant to a little cage. And he was there at the young age of about four, or five months. And he was an attraction tourist coming to that restaurant. They have a real name for this kind of bear. The term restaurant bear exists in Albania. And we found we thought this story was so horrible. When the Albanian Welfare Organization sent us these pictures of the little bear being there all alone in the restaurant without his mother very malnourished would’ve still been dependent on milk at that age. Then we decided to rescue him. Our rescue team was flying down to Albania and took him and we, we worked together with the agencies there, the organizations there in Albania that we could confiscate the bear from his previous owners with help of the police. Then he got vaccinations and papers and everything there in the capital.
He was there in the zoo of Albania for a very short time quarantine period was over and we could transfer him to Germany. And that was in 2016. And that was the first time when he could be inside an enclosure, but he could still live a more natural bear life, and again, with grass under his paws and trees, also two very nice friends. Two siblings also from Albania, bear the same age, and he could grow up with them and still to this day, they’re very close So all three bears from Albania lead a happy life. But they cause us a bit of trouble sometimes. as I’ve told you I think one young bear, is as much work as 10 old bears and since we have the young bears, we all have some more gray hair probably. But yeah, it’s that’s the best to rescue animals. And then to see their development here and to see them rediscover their wild instincts and that they can at least lead a happy life inside an enclosure, of course, but in a more spacious and more natural enclosure than they have had in their previous lives because chained in a restaurant, isn’t a life for an animal.
I think that we agree on this topic, Yeah.
Brighde: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes. I think the enclosures that you’ve managed to create deep in The Black Forest, they’re absolutely amazing. So you have bears and wolves and lynxes in the park. And these are, of course, all predators, naturally would be predators in Europe. So what are some of the main issues? Because most of the people that listen to this podcast live in North America. So there’s a lot, there’s the setting, the context is very different to what it is in Europe. So the main issue facing, these kinds of predators in the wild, they can’t be re-released because maybe they don’t have the behaviors, but it’s also due to lack of habitat as well. Is that correct?
Sabrina: Here, not really, It’s not really lack of habitat, of course in, in Germany or middle Europe, we’re more densely populated of course, than in areas in Canada, of course, like we have a lot of roads and streets and, this is dangerous for wildlife. But at the same time, we still have hiding places for these animals here.
And there are also wide forests here in between. So there are habitats for these animals, for bears, wolves, and lynxes. The problem these species face here, these predators, face here, is that they have been extinct, for about 200, 300 years, people were rooting them out in former times in Europe, and when you have a country that is not used to these animals used to living with these animals. And then they come back. They come back now because they have really good living conditions here. The forests are full of deer we have nature protection laws. That is very good. So now slowly, they’re coming back in the last decades and it’s a very big success for nature conservation that they are now here.
The lynxes, and the wolves, but people are afraid. They don’t know how to live with them and they have to relearn living with them. This is the fact that it’s so difficult because people often say, Okay, they have once been away for good reason. We rooted them out for a good reason. they’re coming back and now they’re causing trouble. Now they eat livestock, now we are afraid to go in the forest, and we all grew up with fairy tales of Red Riding Hood. And there is the wolf, is it the evil one who eats little children, this is stories we’ve all heard. They come from Germany originally.
So we grew up with these stories and the wolf was a dangerous animal. And so now getting used to living with these animals again is a process and I hope at one point our children or our grandchildren would be normal for them because for you in Canada, it’s normal to live with bears, to live with wolves, to live with cougars Mountain lions, you have a lot of wildlife, which we don’t have. But I hope at one point. and lynxes and even bears will be as normal in Germany as foxes and as Rowe Deer and as hedgehogs or squirrels
Brighde: Let’s hope so. We have lots of bears where I live here in Canada. , The second day that we lived here in Canada, we actually saw a wolf from our balcony window. We saw a wolf one time, but it was just absolutely incredible, and yeah, just we have this incredible abundance of wildlife because we are not so densely populated. I’m sure there are other reasons too, but you know, this is not the issue in Europe and it’s very difficult to see these kinds of animals, I think in the wild. Can you describe the Black Forest part for me a little bit? What can visitors expect when they come in what will their experience be like as they are going through the park?
Sabrina: First of all, when people plan their first visit to us, then the first thing recommended for first-time visitors is just, to take your time because we don’t present them in a small space so they can hide if they want to. So sometimes people are disappointed when they plan a visit, for example, for about an hour, then they go on our round trip and they don’t see an animal. So what we recommend is really take your time. So during the summer months, starting from March until the end of October, we are open from 10:00 AM till 6:00 PM and you can stay there for the whole day winter times we’re only open until 4:00 PM because then also it gets dark. but still, it’s very beautiful also in winter times.
And each season has its advantages and disadvantages because yeah, in winter most of the bears are hibernating. Either in natural caves which they dig themselves or in our artificial caves, which we prepare for them, and, but then the wolves are more active because in summer we have lots of leaves on the bushes and everything, and so they hide very well. So in the summertime, they love to lie in the shade and are not very active. So then most of the people search for the wolves in the summertime. So each season yeah is good for different species, but when you take your time and then you come around and you sit on a bench and you just watch the scenery, sooner or later an animal will appear. And then when you compare it, for example, to a zoo you will have more natural observations, more natural These animals are showing. The one bear I was talking about Agonis who was digging that hole earlier, We had to fix it. He’s one that sometimes climbs up in the trees, 20, 30 meters high. And then we had lots of visitors who were just impressed that bears can actually climb that well because they’ve never seen it. Because when they visit a zoo, Bear can actually be happy he has a tree in his enclosure. And then normally the tree is so secure that he can’t climb up. Here they can climb up the trees. We leave all the dead wood inside so they can dig for insects. Also, the wolves and the bears. And the bears and the lynxes is they live in communities, so they keep each other busy and mentally and physically fit. So, they help also each other to overcome past trauma when they have been living in small enclosures.
So they rediscovered their wild instincts together. it’s just great to watch. And also, when you visit the first time, we definitely recommend a guided tour because then we can tell you all the stories of our animals, what they have experienced before because when you go around by yourself, you see a bear or a lynx or a wolf, you don’t know why they’re here and what they have experienced. While we have a lot of signs also for visitors, these stories are also explained, and we also have an English guide at our cash desk which you can borrow to also read German signs or have the translation there.
But also we love giving guided tours because that’s the best. When you can ask a person who works here. To understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it also the stories of the animals, of course, and show pictures from their past lives. And then lots of people understand this kind of work and really also sometimes feel connected to these animals.
Brighde: Yes, Sabrina, I will say that you and your team do an absolutely incredible job at explaining all of this. And it’s so funny because, Seb puts aside like an hour or an hour, 90 minutes for this guided talk and, we have a schedule to keep to, and we want to get people to lunch they’re so interested in asking many questions to these guides because your English, all of your team’s English is amazing, and you just explain things so well. You create such an amazing picture in our minds. It’s like people just can’t wait to hear more about what you’ve got to say and Seb is like Come on, we’ve gotta go to the next thing, but. We always include a guided visit of The Alternative Bear and Wolf Park on our Alsace trips because it is just simply such a unique thing and the issues faced by bears and wolves and lynxes are quite different to North America. It’s really a special place and you have a little cafe there as well, so you can have lunch and you have lots of vegan options. You always make our travelers an incredible sauerkraut and vegan sausage lunch. It’s always so delicious. So what are the challenges for the organization? What are the things that are just really difficult? Cause I think most people listening to this podcast understand that this kind of work is incredibly hard and challenging, there are sometimes some different kinds of challenges. What are some of the challenges that you face with the work that you do?
Sabrina: Oh, a lot of challenges. One of the biggest challenges is surviving as a project. Because of the foundation. Who runs these two animal welfare projects in Germany? The foundation is called, The Foundation for Bears not. There’s not a millionaire running this foundation, and it was founded by some normal people, animal lovers who wanted to help bears wolfs and lynxes. So we are a project that is run only on donations. So what we need is, of course, the entrance of the visitors and of course the sponsorship you can have for our animals and of course donations as well. In corona times and now with the war in Europe also prices yeah, becoming really high. So this is survival mode right now. And, so far we don’t have any support from the government. We try to get support there, but we’re like, we’re not really a big project it’s easy to overlook us in a way maybe. So that’s one of the big challenges is really finances. And of course, there are a lot of other challenges too, like mastering that fine line between animal welfare and marketing also. Of course the listeners, here in this podcast they’re interested in veganism, animal welfare, our ecosystem, in the wellbeing of animals, of course. we are too. That’s our highest good. But at the same time, I have to do a bit of marketing with our animals to have visitors and to have support. Only financially. So to have a reasonable and a good way to do that. This is also sometimes a very thin line too. You have this balance and not the animals suffer from this. So that is our main goal. also, of course, when we rescue animals, there are a lot of difficulties sometimes. The last two years we rescued, were coming from Ukraine. So this was in April this year. We went into the war zone and we rescued two bear cubs from Ukraine our rescue team was risking a lot in doing this. But now they’re safe and happy at our project in Wolves. And also each time we rescue animals, we have to face the challenges at once with the agencies to get all the papers, to get all the allowances, to get animals out of bad, living conditions. There are a lot of regulations for transporting animals. We have to deal with a lot of paperwork also then sometimes we plan to take over an animal and when it’s confiscation included and then sometimes it might go wrong. So you plan for nothing because there are so many things especially when it borders that are uncertain, so this is always quite a big adventure but we have such an amazing team and this is also something that I appreciate a lot. All the people working here do it with their hearts. You need to have this passion for the project to work here for a long time because the animals rule your world and if they do something crazy at night, you have to be there at night too. So it’s not like a nine-to-five job. all of us. It’s something we do by heart and we love to share our passion for that.
Brighde: I know your ultimate goal, of course, is that there are no other wild animals of bears, lynxes, and wolves in captivity. That’s your ultimate goal, but what’s like your plan for the next five years?
Sabrina: What we’re doing now and what will take us also I think the next two years at least, is that we have bought some neighboring land in 2019, so before the Corona crisis, also the war started, and now we are building a new enclosure there. We try to provide the animals with more space. So we’re building this new enclosure with a new quarantine station where we can care for sick animals or where animals that we’ve just rescued spend the first weeks in. This is something we’re building right now. And also what we plan for the next years is to deal more with the topic of wild living wolves and lynxes, especially the bears are still a bit far away from our region in Germany. But, there’s more and more. Wolfs and Lynxes are coming into this region, Wild that are naturally migrating so there’s no reintroduction they come by themselves, which is really a big success. That there’s so much work to do, with education, with informing people about living with them, and also with helping people who have livestock minimize the conflicts. That’s why we are developing our two parks into competence centers. We are dealing with this wildlife human topic, the conflict that we have there.
Brighde: Yeah, definitely in my travels in Europe, for example, I was in Austria a few weeks ago now, and I did see quite a lot of advertising like this. I think it was sort of club like farming rural club, and they basically had posters up saying, wolves because I guess they’re scared their, sheep will be attacked and all of that kind of thing.
Sabrina: The slogan Wolfs don’t eat grass
Sabrina: is often written here in this area on some posters. There are a lot of people who are against the wolf here, and there are also a lot of people here, who romanticize the wolf and who treat them like he’s a harmless pet like a plush toy you can cuddle. And he’s definitely none of these. He’s neither than the devil. Nor the lost spirit of the wild woods, he’s just a wild animal with ecological and biological needs. And some points we have a conflict here with our modern society. But yeah, this is the gap between those two opinions about the wolf here in Germany is very wide. And I don’t know any other wildlife conflict here in Germany about any other species that is harshly discussed as the one about the wolf and the wolf’s return.
Brighde: So of course Travelers who come on our Paris to Alsace vegan tour, which will be happening, next one will be happening in December 2023. They will, of course, be coming to visit you, but for people that are just traveling by themselves or want to learn more about you and what it is that you are doing in the Black Forest and in Thuringen how might they learn about the work that you are doing and keep in touch with you all?
Sabrina: Well, They can check out our homepage It’s www.baer.de is spelled b a e r. So. Like the English bear, it’s like the A and the E are switched. So for us, it’s baer, we write it with this strange letter A with two dots on it, but you don’t have that when you use an internet link, of course.
So B A E R.De and this is our homepage where you can get some information. We also have a Facebook and Instagram account, so we’re also there on social media. And the best thing is just to write us an email also. So our email address is [email protected]. So again, the bear.de the weird spelling. But you can also call and get information about the project there.
Brighde: I was lucky enough to do a hike through the Black Forest and it’s absolutely beautiful. Little cute little German towns around the place, and of course you can go and visit the Alternative Bear and Wolf Park. Spend a day there. Really, could easily spend a week traveling around The Black Forest and just have an incredible time. It really is so beautiful. Sabrina, I wanna thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. Thank you so much.
Sabrina: Thank you so much for the interview. Thank you so much for getting up early so that you could do the interview even though we have the time shift in between Canada and Germany. So thanks to you also for your time and thanks a lot for sharing our project with the vegan Canadian listeners here, out there, and in our community there also thanks for sharing like everyone who shares what we are doing, who’s telling their friends what we are doing, the more support we get and yeah, the more animals we can help the end. Thank you