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NATURE

Seven hazards to avoid when you’re outside in Austria

Nature in Austria can be deceptively dangerous. Here's The Local's handy guide to surviving the great outdoors when you live in Austria.

Seven hazards to avoid when you're outside in Austria
Two wild boar cubs (Sus scrofa) are pictured on October 11, 2008 in the Lainzer Tiergarten, a 25 square kms growth forest west of Vienna that was constituted more than 200 years ago under Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and her son Josef II. Every year more than 500,000 people walk in the forest and watch free wild animals. The forest is also used for hunting, mostly by wardens and wealthy guests. AFP PHOTO/DIETER NAGL (Photo by DIETER NAGL / AFP)

Austria is a beautiful Alpine state, famous for its majestic mountains, stunning lakes, picture perfect meadows and nature in all its abundance. However, even the Garden of Eden had a resident snake.

There are more than a few dangers you should be aware of before strapping on your hiking boots and heading into the great outdoors. 

You could be chased by a boar, bitten by a tick, accidentally eat something poisonous or get an itchy rash from a caterpillar every time you step outside. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Wild boar

The British ambassador to Austria was chased by a rampaging wild boar a few years ago while out walking in the Vienna woods in the city’s Lainzer Tiergarten.

Writing in his blog, Leigh Turner said he suddenly found himself face-to-face with a group of “four or five hulking adults and countless piglets”. 

He tried to walk away quietly but then said he heard a noise behind him like a “galloping horse” and turned to see a “massive wild boar”, head down, charging straight at him.

Mr Turner tried to climb a pile of tree trunks to escape, and hurt his hand. 

It could have been worse, a man in Berlin had his laptop stolen by a wild boar last year and made headlines around the world while chasing after it naked.

Ticks

Tiny little ticks may be among the most dangerous animals you will encounter living in Austria. It’s important to be vaccinated against tick borne encephalitis if you live here, especially if you enjoy hiking and being in the outdoors.

According to media reports a record of 215 illnesses and three deaths from this disease was set in 2020.

Lyme disease is also a risk factor in much of the country. A recent study found a third of the country’s ticks are infected with borrelia, the bacteria which causes Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is easily treated if caught soon after infection, but becomes more serious if left untreated.  Time to stock up on tick repellent and invest in some long trousers before heading out into the wilderness.

Another thing to bear in mind is you should wait two weeks to be given the TBE vaccine if you have had a coronavirus vaccination, according to Austria’s National Vaccination Committee

READ MORE: A promising treatment for Lyme disease

Caterpillars

Many of Vienna’s parks had to be closed last year due to an infestation of Eichenprozessionsspinner, or oak processionary moth caterpillars.

The caterpillars are covered in tiny hairs which can break off and cause itching, skin rashes and breathing difficulties.

You can find out more here (German language link), or here

Wild Garlic

A popular pastime in Austria is going into the woods to hunt for wild garlic (Barlauch), which is used in recipes for soup, pesto, bread and even wild garlic chicken Kiev.

However, what some people may not realise is that wild garlic is very similar in appearance to Lily of the Valley (Maiglockchen), which is poisonous.

The smell should help you differentiate between the two, otherwise this helpful guide (German) or this one (English) will steer you in the right direction.

Mushrooms 

Foraging for mushrooms is also a popular pastime in almost every province of Austria, as they grow in abundance everywhere. Particularly prized are Eierschwammerl (Chanterelles) or Steinpilze (Ceps or Porcini). However, it’s important not to pick the wrong kind. Of the 8,800 known species of mushrooms in Austria, which incidentally do not belong to either the kingdom of animals or plants, there are only 100 species which are edible.

You can read more about the code of conduct for mushroom pickers here or a guide on how to do it properly here. And remember the first rule of foraging: When in doubt, leave it out. 

Wolves

Wolves have returned to Austria in recent years. In 2016 the first Austrian wolf pack was established in Allentsteig, a military training ground in Lower Austria. The Wilderness Society reports a second one has been found at the Austrian-Czech border near Karlstift. 

According to the BBC Earth website, while hundreds of years ago wolves in Europe roamed around attacking child shepherds, as rabies has been largely eliminated and children are no longer put to work looking after sheep, they pose far less risk to humans today. 

Bears

Brown bears can also be found in Austria. An EU report found the possibility of accidents involving bears “cannot be eliminated” though they are very rare.

Read more: Italian bears return to Austria’s woods in force

According to the report there are bear populations in the Northern Limestone Alps, descended from three bears released by the WWF in the early 1990s and in the Karawanken along the border of Carinthia and Slovenia.

Read more: Farmer attacked by a bear in Salzburg

Lynx have been reintroduced to Austria (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Lynx 

There are now a handful of lynx (Luchs) living in Austria, according to the Wilderness Society. They were reintroduced from Switzerland in 2011 after dying out 100 years ago.

There are differing views on how dangerous lynx are to humans. While the Lynx society says they pose no danger to humans, in Britain, the National Farmers Union warned they might attack members of the public if re-introduced to the wild, according to a report in the English Telegraph newspaper.

The lynx is a large cat with fluffy ears and a pointy beard, sometimes called the wizard of the forest. Lynx are rarely seen, and live in wild, mountainous forests away from humans, such as in the remote forests of the border regions of  Styria, Upper and Lower Austria.

A new Lynx  long-distance hiking trail through this area was recently created from Reichraming in Upper Austria via Styria to Lunz am See in the Mostviertel in Lower Austria.

German vocabulary

Ticks – Zecken 

Tick bourne encephalitis –  Zeckenenzephalitis / Frühsommermeningoenzephalitis (FSME)

Lyme disease – Die Lyme-Borreliose 

Wild Boar – Wildschweine

Lynx – Luchs

Bear – Bär 

Wolf – Wolf

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TOURISM

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

Vienna's Fiaker - the horse-drawn carriages seen across the city's streets for centuries - are popular with tourists, but animal rights advocates say the practice is cruel, particularly as temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

The image of two horses carrying a carriage full of tourists mesmerised by beautiful Austrian sights is quite a common one, particularly in Vienna.

The Fiaker, which is the Austrian name (borrowed from French) for the set of two horses, plus a carriage and coachman, are quite popular and represent an important part of Viennese history.

The first license for a Fiaker was granted in the capital around 1700. They rose in popularity before the advent of cars in the 1900s.

“They are just as much a part of Vienna as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Giant Ferris Wheel: the fiakers”, according to the Vienna Tourist Board.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Now, though, the symbol for the capital has become the target of controversy. For years, animal rights groups have protested against the overworking of the animals, the stressful conditions for the horses on busy Viennese roads and the extreme heat they face in summer. 

What are the main issues raised?

For years now, several animal rights groups have protested against exploiting the animals for touristic purposes.

By Vienna regulations, the horses need to be out of the streets once temperatures reach 35C. Many groups ask for the limit to be at least 30C instead.

Additionally, the temperature base is measured at the stables, in the mostly shaded areas from where the animals leave every morning to work in Vienna’s first district, where the blazing sun and scorching pavements could make temperatures higher by several degrees.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Another issue raised by groups is that the fiaker no longer fits in a busy 21st-century capital – with its busy roads and loud cars. They claim that walking among the many vehicles and tourists of the first district is unnecessarily stressful for the horses.

A traditional Fiaker in the Viennese first district. (photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

What do the fiaker associations say?

Many representatives of the organisations reiterate that the animals are well-cared for and used to the heat.

A spokeswoman for the carriage companies asks for a round table with politicians as debates heat up, ORF reported. The veterinarian Isabella Copar, who works for two Fiaker farms, says there is no basis for the 30C regulation.

“I don’t understand that politicians make a judgment on animal welfare, even though they have no idea about the animals”, she told the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Copar mentions a 2008 study by the Veterinary school of the University of Vienna saying that after nearly 400 measurements on the animals, not a single case of “heat stress” was found.

As for the infamous cases when horses have collapsed in the streets of Vienna during particularly hot days, she states that the collapses are usually due to a horse disease.

It was never possible to establish a connection with the heat. “If this happens in the stable, no one is interested,” the veterinarian said.

What is next?

The latest news in the controversy is a major one. The Health Minister, who is also Animal Protection Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens), has stated he would “welcome” a debate about a Fiaker ban.

“You should think about it, really for animal welfare reasons, whether you should expose a horse to this stress.

According to the minister, there is a question also as to whether the use of the carriages fits in the context of a large city at all. “I think that’s a bit outdated”, he said.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

There is a particular tug of war between the City and the Federal Government regarding whose responsibility it is to act on a possible ban or even tighten the rules.

Both authorities are set to talk about the issue in June. They are set to also speak with the Fiaker associations.

Vienna is unlikely to see a total ban as early as that. Still, a 30C temperature limit after which the horses would need to be sent back to stables could be heading to the capital.

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