Founded in 1981 and encompassing 1,800 sq km it is no surprise that Austria’s Hohe Tauern National Park is home to more than 200 species of wildlife. Some of these animals are close to extinction and can only be spotted within the park. Guided tours are available throughout the year and are themed by the season. Of course, you can take your chances with a solo walking tour and attempt to tick as many of these species off your wildlife spotting list as possible. Some of those to look out for include….
The Bearded Vulture
These curious creatures used to found in large numbers throughout the park. After a brief absence from the region (brief being a few hundred years) they were reintroduced into the Alpine wild in 1986. You can find these bearded beasts in the Krumital region along with the golden eagle and the griffon vulture. Unlike other vultures they don’t have a bald head and appear a little bulkier due to their hunched backs. Adults are mostly a whitish-grey colour with more orange or rust-coloured heads. They survive almost entirely on bone marrow. In fact, this particular vulture holds the distinction of being the only living bird species that survives on a diet of marrow.
The Alpine Ibex
A species of wild goat, the ibex spends its days above the snow line on the steep, jagged terrain of the Alps. Larger males are hard to miss with their huge curved horns. Like many of the species in Hohe Tauern the Alpine ibex is in trouble. Back in the day it could be found in plentiful supply in parts of France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. Then firearms became common. And people started pointing their guns at the goat. It became extinct throughout Switzerland and Germany and pretty soon there were only around 100 of them left. Efforts to protect the animal since the 1980s have proven almost as successful as attempts to wipe them out and have seen its numbers increase to more than 20,000.
The Alpine Salamander
The Alpine salamander is a shiny black amphibian that can be found in the central and eastern Alps. To catch a glimpse of these fully-terrestrial species you’ll have to do a little bit of climbing as they generally can’t be spotted below heights of 700m. Fun fact about this particular breed of salamander, they hold the distinction of having one of the longest gestation periods in the animal kingdom at up to three years.
The Alpine Marmot
These furry little creatures live at heights of between 800 and 3200 metres in the Alps and other mountains ranges. They are noted diggers and hold the impressive distinction of being able to penetrate soil that even a pickaxe would struggle to crack. They are about 50 cm in length with a blonde or red-grey fur. If you are looking to track down this giant squirrel then you will have to plan ahead, as they hibernate for up to nine months of the year.
The Golden Eagle
The golden eagle is one of the most famous inhabitants of the National Park. Dark brown with a distinctive golden-brown plumage they normally have white markings on their wings. Home for the golden eagle is a big nest in cliffs or tall trees. They might have a fearsome reputation as a bird of prey but they are also monogamous creatures who mate for life. While they are considered one of the more common eagle species there are still less than 250,000 golden eagles in the world.