Bullying Goats and Dive-Bombing Vultures

I spent last week in my mom’s hometown in The Middle Of Nowhere, Germany, for a cousin’s wedding—The Middle of Nowhere is officially called Affoldern, but only the ten farmers who live there know that. In between various wedding-related activities and obligations, we got the chance to take my two-year-old nephew to a nearby wildlife park, the Wildtierpark Edersee. The highlights for my nephew—and everyone else, really—were the bird of prey demonstration and the feeding zoo.

Bird of Prey Show Edersee

A vulture flying above the lake during the bird of prey demonstration.

I remember going to the park quite often as a child, when we visited my relatives in the area. I always enjoyed it, mainly because you could feed the animals, and I was looking forward to seeing how it has changed. The answer: not much. They’ve definitely modernized the entrance with a new building and quite a few multimedia exhibitions in that building, but the park itself remains relatively unchanged. The one exception is the new highlight of the park: the bird of prey show.

To get to the park, you’ll want to exit the freeway somewhere between Kassel and Marburg, the two closest cities to the area and the last signs of modern civilization you’re likely to see. Once off the Autobahn, turn onto a country road……and get stuck behind a tractor. For the next few hours—or a couple of kilometers—you’ll see this:

Edertal Farmland Germany

…and you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy it, while stuck behind the tractor

And pass through towns like this:

Rooftops Rural Germany

You might not end up in this particular town, but you’ll see plenty just like it

Eventually you’ll reach the limits of currently explored territory and that’s when you know you’ve found the town where my mom grew up.

Affoldern Rural Hessen

The town of Affoldern. Yes, that’s all of it.

Not long after, you’ll get to the wildlife park. The first thing you’ll notice upon paying the entrance fee and entering the actual park, is that you’ve basically just paid to take a walk in a forest.

One obvious drawback of giving animals a large enough space to roam freely and feel like actual wild animals, is that you don’t really get to see many of them.  Occasionally you’ll catch a glimpse of a tail sticking out from a clump of bushes or a pair of eyes peering at you out of the darkness, but you’ll rarely see a whole animal that isn’t a horse, a deer or a boar.

This place is definitely not like the zoos you’ll find in Asia, where you get wonderful close-up views of even the shiest animals. Of course, you only get those great views because the animals are stuck in cages only slightly larger than the animals themselves, but who cares? You’re so close to a wild animal you can actually look into their eyes and see their desperate pleas to just kill them and put them out of their misery!

You won’t find any exotic animals in the Wildtierpark Edersee either: no monkeys or lions or anything so glamorous—just a bunch of deer and wild boars and various other animals that are currently—or have been in the past—native to the area. It still makes for a pleasant walk, though and I have to say, it’s nice to see animals in a park or zoo actually enjoying their lives.

Nevertheless, it is not hard to see why the bird demonstration and the feeding zoo are easily the highlights of the park. The bird of prey demonstration begins with some kind of large bird (very descriptive, I know, but that’s also pretty much the limit of my bird-related knowledge) swooping close to the ground past startled spectators to catch a bit of food tossed by its handler in midair. People around us were screaming and ducking, but I wasn’t worried. I figured the birds know what they’re doing—they fly close to us but they’re not going to hit us.

Bird of Prey Demonstration

A large bird, that may or may not be a bald eagle, soaring above our heads.

Then came the vultures to prove me wrong. They flew even lower than the other birds, often hitting the ground with their wings as they swooped in. Due to the size of their wings, there was also no way they could fit in between the various people watching the show. Did they care? Not one bit. They simply whacked anyone in the head who happened to be in their chosen flight path. That included me once, my father once and my mom, who got hit the hardest by far. As we were being treated like extras in a Hitchcock movie, my nephew was holding up a little stick yelling out “Here birdie!” They didn’t listen. That’s a good thing.

Low-flying Vulture

A low-flying vulture swooping in for a bombing run.

At the end of the demonstration, the children got a chance to pet a golden owl, something my nephew talked about for hours afterwards. At least that’s what I’m told. I pretty much can’t understand a word he says, so I have to trust my sister to translate accurately.

Having survived the attacking vultures, we continued our long walk in the forest interrupted by the occasional glimpse of a deer. Near the end of the loop through the park, we reached the second highlight and the one I remember from my childhood: the feeding zoo.

Basically you can feed goats and wild boars. The goats are cute, so the boars starve. It is possible to enter the goat pen, but you have to climb a ladder to do so. It used to be easier, but apparently goats would constantly get free when people left the doors open while entering or exiting the pen. Usually while exiting and exiting under duress, being bullied for food by a bunch of aggressive and greedy goats.

It seems my 22-year-old cousin once endured this traumatic experience. The goats hounded him out of the pen and followed him a few hundred meters down the path, eventually backing him into a corner. What they did then, I don’t know. He seemed too traumatized to speak about the incident.

From photos and stories my parents tell, I know I also had a traumatic experience with a goat many, many years ago, so I felt I could relate to my cousin. That changed when he told me his experience happened a few months ago. I mean, seriously, they’re goats. Most of them little babies. True, some are a little bigger and can get pretty aggressive, but……they’re goats!

Anyway, my nephew had no such issues; he simply fed the goats through the fence. And unlike other kids he didn’t feed them handfuls of food; he fed them one tiny piece at a time. I guess he was savoring the experience. Or he was rationing and making sure every goat got its fair share. Either way, I’m told he talked about this for hours afterward too.

Goats Feeding Zoo

My nephew feeding a young goat its one allotted morsel of food.

Overall, this wildlife park is pretty cool and I highly recommend going if you’re ever in the area. Of course, if you’re ever in that particular area of Germany, you’re most likely hopelessly lost and you have better things to worry about than subjecting yourself to bullying by hungry goats and a whack in the head by giant vulture wings. Just keep following the tractors and eventually you’ll make it back to modern civilization. You’ll recognize it by the large golden arches.

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