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Into the wild: Belgium’s 6 coolest animals
In general, it’s fair to say that when it comes to wildlife, Belgium can seem slightly less wild than much of the rest of the world. No need to check your shoes before you put your feet in; you’re unlikely to run into any extremely large, ferocious or poisonous creatures; we hardly even have mosquitos in the summertime.
However, if you keep your eyes open and try get a bit off the beaten path, you might be surprised by what you find. Here are six surprising bits of Belgian fauna that you should look out for.
1. Common adder (Vipera berus)
Yes, Belgium does have poisonous snakes — well, exaclty one: the common adder. As its name suggests, this snake is far from exclusive to Belgium and can be found all over northern and central Europe and down into the Balkans.
You’re unlikely to come across this fellow on a stroll through the woods, he’s quite shy and stays clear of well-travelled roads. Also, their numbers aren't that strong: they’ve been on the list of threatened species in Belgium since 1980.
If you do encounter one, as far as run-ins with poisonous snakes go, you’re in luck. Its venom is not particularly strong and very rarely has killed a human. Fifty per cent of all bites only cause local pain and swelling. This, coupled with its naturally demure, unaggressive character, means you’re unlikely to be in much danger. So if you see one, be calm and respectful, don’t approach it, but do enjoy the opportunity to see this beautiful, elegant creature.
While they might sound scary, wolves are in fact a European success story — for the wolves at least, less for grazing sheep. Belgium, like many countries in Europe, eradicated its wolf population back in 1886. However, in 2011, the first wolf in over 100 years was spotted within Belgium’s borders in the Namur village of Gedinne.
This wolf is thought to be part of the gradual resurgence of wolf packs across Europe, coming west from Poland and over the Alps from Italy. In the last decades, more wolves have established packs in Germany and France, and with this sighting in Gedinne, we can add the canine to the list of possible (though extremely unlikely) creatures you could find in the Belgium wild.
If you do happen to come across this lone wolf, know that wolves a generally very scared of humans and unlikely to attack you. They are also protected by the Belgian government, so it is illegal to kill it.
3. Wild cats
Another animal making a comeback in Belgium is the wildcat. This savage big sister of the domestic cat can be found in growing numbers in the Ardennes region of Wallonia and, more and more, in the Limburg province as well. Living largely off rodents and rabbits, this wildcat can grow to weigh as much as eight kilograms, but is more likely to be considerably smaller.
The wildcat, however, shouldn’t be confused with its much larger cousin, the lynx (pictured). While thought to be long extinct in Belgium, these beautiful tawny, spotted cats have begun to be sighted once again. This revival is assumed to be coming from the German Eifel mountains as well as by the illegal transplantation of the animal by hunters.
The lynx in Belgium is a rare, but powerful animal. They can grow to as much at 30 kilos in weight and, while the wildcat might be able to kill the occasional young lamb or other hooved animal, the lynx hunts prey as large as a 150-kilo deer. Like all wild animals, they should be appreciated from a distance and never approached.
5. Belgian Blue
Here is an animal you probably won’t find anywhere near the wild. The modern breed of the Belgian Blue, a domestically bred cow that gets its name from their often blueish-grey colour, was created in the 1950s through artificial insemination by a professor in Liege. These animals, which some call supercows and others call monsters, are famous for their notable muscle mass. Bred to have the same bone structure as normal cows, but with twice the muscle mass, these sinewy specimens, which you’ll find dotting the Flemish and Wallonian countrysides, produce significantly more meat than a typical cow. However, their designer genetics leave them requiring a great deal of care , including nearly always Caesarean births and stable, non-extreme climates. Today Belgian Blues are bred all over the world, including still in Belgium.
6. Wild boar
All of these animals above, with the exception of the Belgian Blue, have been relatively rare and special finds in the Belgian landscape. The wild boar, on the other hand, is far from rare. So much so that, in past years, the Belgian government has made efforts to encourage hunters to pursue the porcine porkers in an attempt to cull its growing population. The results of these efforts often end up on autumn and winter specials menus.
Though not hard to spot, the beauty of the wild boar is precisely in its commonness. Suddenly coming across one of these creatures crossing the road can be an impressive sight. At their biggest, the wild boars found in Belgium can weigh 200 kilos, can run up to 40 kilometres per hour and can jump 150 centimetres — not something you want running at you, a loved one or your vehicle.
Today they are over-populated in the space available to them, which has increased boar-related road accidents as well as incidents of attack when a threatened boar has charged as a human or, more likely, a pet dog. However, with the return of the wolf and the lynx, as mentioned above, we might expect some non-human intervention in the culling of these animals.