Der Rothirsch erobert die Schweiz zurück
The red deer disappears from Switzerland
The red deer was wiped out in Switzerland in the 19th century. The industrialisation that began at that time and the associated population growth demanded a lot of energy wood. Intensive forest use as well as clear-cutting areas for cattle pastures led to a large-scale loss of deer habitat. With the French Revolution, hunting was also declared a right of the people. Laws for the protection of wild animals, however, were lacking. This unregulated popular hunting with improved weaponry combined with great poverty and famine among the population led to intensive overexploitation of forests and game populations. Habitat loss and overhunting led to the extinction of the red deer in Switzerland.
The King of the Forest Returns…
Thanks to the first forestry and hunting law around 1876, pioneering protective measures for forests and game were established. Hunting was regulated by law, a network of game reserves with gamekeepers was introduced, excessive forest grazing was prohibited and many reforestation projects were implemented. Starting from residual populations in neighbouring countries, red deer began to reclaim their habitat in Switzerland between 1870 and 1880. This successful reconquest started with deer from Vorarlberg in the canton of Graubünden. In the 20th century, it continued steadily from the east of Switzerland to the west.
…back to Bern:
The first red deer migrated over the Brünig and Grimsel in the 1960s. At the end of the 1970s, around 70 red deer were counted in the east of the canton of Bern. However, for fear of damaging the forest, people wanted to prevent the red deer from spreading further. The population was so strongly regulated by hunting that it could only grow slowly and hardly spread. In 2005, after 35 years, the population was estimated at only 375 deer. Thanks to a new hunting plan by the canton, the population then grew almost fivefold in the following ten years, to over 1700 animals. Thanks to the population growth, red deer are now spreading from the Alpine region via the Pre-Alps and the Jura as far as the Central Plateau. In this migration, however, they are stopped by many human obstacles.
…back to Zurich
Contrary to the expectations of many experts, red deer are also migrating back to the densely populated Central Plateau and are currently in the process of settling there permanently. For example, red deer migrated back from the French Jura to the lowlands north of the city of Geneva. Along the Albis chain, deer even migrated into the vicinity of the city of Zurich. Today, populations have formed on the Albis and Uetliberg, in the Zurich Oberland and in the Knonauer Amt, among others. In Aargau, red deer are also advancing from the north-east, south and west.
A clear path for wildlife
On their migrations and recapture of their ancestral territory, red deer encounter many obstacles: Impassable fenced highways, busy multi-track railway lines, densely built-up settlement areas and obstructed river banks. All of these impede or prevent the exchange of wildlife populations, dispersal to new areas or the search for suitable wintering grounds. The Federal Office for the Environment has therefore defined connectivity axes for wildlife along which red deer, roe deer, badgers and lynx can migrate through densely populated Switzerland. Bottlenecks on these axes, so-called wildlife corridors, are particularly important. The cantons must ensure that these corridors for wildlife are not obstructed and that green bridges or wildlife subways are built on existing motorways. Although some passages for wildlife have been created in recent years, almost 50 corridors for wildlife are still interrupted. In particular, the longest A1 motorway crossing Switzerland along the Central Plateau prevents the exchange of wildlife populations between the Jura and the Pre-Alps. Until the planned construction of further structures for wildlife, their further spread will be slowed down.
Insight into the secret life of the red deer
In a research project of the cantons of St.Gallen and both Appenzell, researchers from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences ZHAW Wädenswil, together with cantonal gamekeepers, captured and anaesthetised 45 red deer. The animals were transmittered with telemetry collars. 450,000 GPS positions were provided by the bulls and hinds, and thus a valuable data basis to shed light on the wild life of red deer. In particular, the researchers wanted to find out where the animals stay in winter and summer, how and where their migrations lead them.
The “fates” of two individual deer provide insight into wild red deer life, which often takes place closer to us than we think. While the hind ID002 inhabited the St. Gallen Rhine valley near the motorway all year round, the long-distance migrating stag ID011 met a tragic end in a rutting fight in the mountain area (from the final report of the intercantonal research project in eastern Switzerland “Red deer in eastern Switzerland”, 2020):
C. Willisch, N. Marreros, L. Schaufelberger & S. Pisano, 2019: Austausch von Rothirschen zwischen den Voralpen und dem Mittelland. Schlussbericht, Erstellt im Auftrag des Kantons Bern
D. Thiel, C. Signer, R.F. Graf, S. D. Wellig, U. Nef, H. Nigg, A. Elmiger, A. Ammann, 2020: Rothirsch in der Ostschweiz. Abschlussbericht des interkantonalen Forschungsprojekts in der Ostschweiz der Jahre 2014–2017.
M. Baumann, S. Muggli, C. Thiel-Egenter, D. Thiel, M. Thürig, P. Volery, P. Widmer, S. Wirthner, U. Zimmermann, 2020: Jagen in der Schweiz. Auf dem Weg zur Jagdprüfung. 3. Auflage. JFK-CSF-CCP.