If the Alsace region has a recognizable symbol, it’s the stork. The big white and black birds are everywhere, nestled on the roofs of half-timbered houses, flying over the medieval cities, and looking for food in the nearby swamps. Today, there more than 800 pairs of them live in Alsace. It’s hard to believe that at one point, only five breeding pairs lived in the area.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, people began noticing a massive decline in the local stork population. Storks, which migrate and spend half the year in the warmer regions of sub-Saharan Africa, were being massively hunted for food while overseas. Their habitats were also destroyed because of wars and industrial development. As a result of this, fewer and fewer birds traveled back in Eastern France, worrying the region’s locals, who were used to living among them.
In 1976, the NaturOparc Reintroduction Center, located in the beautiful Wine Valley, opened as a captive breeding center to help save the storks from extirpation. Thanks to their tremendous efforts, they’ve succeeded. To this day, hundreds of free-roaming storks wander around to the wildlife sanctuary, much to the enjoyment of the human visitors.
Nowadays, the park is focusing on more than just storks. It’s also trying to reintroduce other species such as the European otter, coypu, and Great Hamster. If you visit, you could have the chance to see different activities involving some of their captive animals. Those demonstrations showcase the animals’ natural hunting techniques, and their purpose is to educate people about wildlife rather than entertain like a circus.
Know Before You Go
NaturOparc is located on the Route des Vins between Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr. It's open every day from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. except in October, when it's closed in the morning. Admission is 10.50€ for adults, 9€ for kids 12 to 18,7.50€ for kids five to 11, and free for kids under five.