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Who needs Africa when you can go on a great safari in North Rhine-Westphalia? Between industrial heritage, legendary soccer arenas, metropolitan areas and UNESCO World Heritage sites, NRW shows its surprisingly wild side time and again. There is plenty of room for wildlife - after all, more than half of the state's area consists of forests and meadows, bodies of water, fields and protected areas. And if you know where to look, you have a good chance of seeing the stars of North Rhine-Westphalia's wildlife in their natural habitat. We present: The Big Five of NRW.

Wild horses in Westmünsterland

Horses are a great sight. Wild horses in the wild even more so! Because actually, the smart, serene animals have long since disappeared in Europe. Only in the Nature Park Hohe Mark, one of the largest nature parks in North Rhine-Westphalia, a last herd of wild horses, 400 head strong, still gallops through the extensive moor, heath and forest area. It has been their ancestral home for many centuries. Even today, the animals are largely left to their own devices in the 400-hectare reserve. Only once a year do humans intervene, but then in a rather sensational way: during the Merfeld wild horse catch in May, the one-year-old stallions are caught with their bare hands and taken out of the herd to avoid territorial disputes between the animals. Which incidentally results in a pretty cool show for the visitors...

 Flamingos in the Zwillbrocker Venn

What a compliment! A colony of exotic pink and chile flamingos has made the Zwillbrocker Venn in the Münsterland region as its breeding ground, thus establishing the northernmost flamingo breeding colony in Europe. It's really atmospheric, this wetland on the border with the Netherlands, which has long since been declared a nature reserve and bird sanctuary with its lakes and water arms. Laughing gulls also like to stay here all year round. The flamingos, on the other hand, only stay in the fens from March to July, sometimes until September: pink and graceful, they balance on one leg in the water. A great sight! When the heather blooms between July and September, the fen is decorated with a gorgeous carpet of lilac-pink blossoms.

And this is how you get to the Zwillbrocker Venn by bus and train: Plan arrival.

Bison near Bad Berleburg

Actually, they didn't even exist anymore: bison, the largest land mammals in Europe, were considered practically extinct. But then a herd of these wild animals was reintroduced as part of a species conservation program in the Rothaargebirge settled in Siegen-Wittgenstein: The bulky, brown-featured cattle, which can weigh up to a ton, graze there undisturbed in unspoiled natural landscapes. They are not easy to find, so a visit to the "Wisent Wilderness" near Bad Berleburg. There lived another herd in an enclosed but natural area and never too far from the 3 kilometer hiking trail where visitors can safely approach the "kings of the forest".

And this is how you get to Bad Berleburg by train: Plan arrival.

And this is how you get to the Hohe Mark Nature Park by bus and train: Plan arrival.

Wild geese on the Lower Rhine

A cozy spot on earth is the floodplain landscape Bislicher Island for the Arctic white-fronted geese, which escape the biting cold of their Siberian homeland here every winter. When the birds land in the nature reserve near Xanten at the end of October after their 6,000-kilometer flight, they can expect a mild climate, safe roosts in former gravel pits or in the old arms of the Rhine, and a lush buffet of green plants on which they feast almost around the clock. After all, they need to gather strength for their return flight at the end of February. About 25,000 geese check in every autumn on Bislicher Insel and delight visitors with their magnificent flight formations or great chattering. Don't forget your binoculars!

And this is how you get to Bislicher Insel by bus and train: Plan arrival.

Storks in the Great Peat Bog

Where does the stork family raise its offspring? Popular with North Rhine-Westphalian representatives of the red-legged rattling birds is the vicinity of the Great peat bog between the Wiehengebirge and the Mittellandkanal. Because farming here is very gentle, the stork parents can pick out enough frogs and other tidbits from the wetlands to feed their offspring. Visitors can enjoy the view over the natural wetland landscape with its ponds and heath areas from observation towers and, well... hope that the stork will come.

And this is how you get to the Great Peat Bog by bus and train: Plan arrival.

More articles from North Rhine-Westphalia

In collaboration with Tourism NRW e.V.

Reasons for a Vacation in North Rhine-Westphalia there are plenty - the living Cities, the old Castles and palaces and the unique Nature are just a few of them.


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