After the recent unsettling business at the Kunsthaus I thought I’d treat myself to a live horse.
My nose lead the way from the train to the Wildnispark. The pleasing earthy smell of manure and large animal had crept down the hill and sneaked under the boundary fence. If you have a cold when you visit, follow the signs.
After a ten minute walk, I saw a sign to the wolves. Excitement! My first ever live ones. Obviously the viewing platform would provide the best, er, view. Camera poised. Eye trained…Not a wolf in sight. They must have been skulking in their bunker. Perhaps I should have been there at opening time (8am in summer). Back on the trail, negotiating avalanches of boisterous high school children, I found a pack of wolves lying close to the fence beneath the trees. So what if I was unable to deduce much about the intricacies of pack life – the hierarchical structure, the modes of interaction, the subtle nuances of behaviour…their actual body shape? They were wolves and I had glimpsed them.
Strolling through (yes, through) the wild boar enclosure keeps one pretty alert. That adjective, ‘wild’, is watching one’s every footstep. Every tree, every fallen log, becomes a hiding spot for a goring boar or an enraged sow. However, I reached the other side without a rustle to hint of their presence, nor even a stray beam of sunlight falling on a sharpened tusk in the gloom.
Then the reindeer. Their antlers actually look like velvet! The pink skin shows through the short, pale brown hairs. They arc like a well-pruned rose bush, open as a bowl. I expected them to taper to a point for fighting but they are rounded, like lumps. It’s not the sort of thing one believes without seeing for oneself, but they are just like the fake antlers available at Christmas-time in Australia for personal decoration. The reindeer have such graceful carriage – in the manner of one bearing a crown or a splendid, but precariously-balanced, hat.
The moose, whose massiveness I longed to apprehend, was lying down. The metal cut-out, towering over me, did impart some sense of size, however. As humans we prize the tiny and the enormous of the animal kingdom. Do we have a desire to observe extremes or to maximally contrast ourselves to experience vulnerability? If the latter, are we talking simply predator and prey or do we crave the emotional experiences of protecting and nurturing as well as being in awe and acknowledging our frailty or feeling challenged?
The bears were surrounded by shrill primary school children. Three of the creatures cavorted only two metres from us, playing with sticks, tumbling together, placing their hands on one another’s cheeks, leaping out of the water to crash on their companions. The humans were captivated.
And I found my horses – intact this time. The Przewalski horse is the only truly wild horse species left in the world. It is not the ancestor of modern domestic horses. Noted as extinct in the wild in the 1960s, due to hunting and human encroachment (of course), it was reintroduced to Mongolia, for which it is the national symbol, in the ’90s. The oldest pictures of Przewalski-type horses date from more than 20,000 years ago as rock engravings, paintings, and decorated tools in caves in Italy, southern France, and northern Spain. The oldest written account of the animals comes from a Tibetan monk who lived around 900 AD.
I experience my first sighting of an object I know only through discussion or pictures as a thrill of recognition, the pleasure of deepened understanding and the simple joy of meeting. When the object is something ancient, like a horse species or an artifact, all of this is coupled with wonder and respect as I am cast through ages and places as though I were a mite in the time-space ‘dust’. This happened when, after reading about fertility figures in novels and non-fiction, I came upon this from the fourth millennium BC. I progressed from stunned recognition to speechless disbelief at my good fortune to babbling delight in moments.
Seeing animals in the flesh gives one some of those feelings, as well as the almost physical sensation of expansion that accompanies the assimilation of new knowledge and experience. Added to that, the Wildnispark has serene trails and beautiful plants.
Parking is available and there is pedestrian access at a number of points. Catch the S4 train to Wildpark-Höfli station. If coming from Zurich, pass under the road. The signs take you through the village to a carpark. The park is through the metal gate.