A couple of months ago, while teaching the Present Perfect, I got to talking with a student about achievements. I asked him if he could tell me some of the things he has achieved that he is proudest of. He thought about it for a little while and then told me a story.
Around ten years ago, he and his wife organised and held their own little Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets) complete with food and drink and music and, essentially, his entire village as guests. As part of the the markets, they arranged to have a little petting zoo for the children and hired the animals and their keepers from an animal park known for its focus on rare and endangered domestic species that were facing extinction as a result of industrial specialisation. An important, one-of-a-kind park that, as it turns out, was facing closure. My student’s wife turned to him and said, ‘you must do something about this.’ And so he did. He took it on as a project quite apart from his day job and set about saving the park. His efforts got Greenpeace involved, the organisation thrilled to be on board and today Arche Warder is a thriving, hugely significant Greenpeace project, the best of its kind in Europe, working hard to conserve old, long-valued, now-ignored species that would otherwise die out.
And that, my student said, is one of the best, most rewarding things he has ever done.
Over the last hundred years, farming underwent a dramatic transformation. Farms, which once were home to thousands of different heritage animal breeds moved towards industrialization and began to rely upon only a few specialized breeds selected for their high production of milk, meat, eggs, etc. During this period, as traditional heritage breeds fell out of favor with farmers, thousands of domestic animal breeds became extinct.
In Europe alone, “half of all breeds of domestic animals that existed at the turn of the century have become extinct, and 43 percent of the remaining breeds are endangered.“1 Worldwide, one in three breeds is at risk of extinction and each month it is estimated that one domestic animal breed becomes extinct.
Today the remaining heritage breeds survive only in small populations. With the support of Greenpeace, Arche Warder works against this devastation, striving to preserve as much of the original domestic animal variety as possible in order to retain important living genetic reserves for generations to come.
We visited Arche Warder on the weekend and it was one of the loveliest things I have done in this country. Acres and acres of land for these animals, each of which are healthy and happy and so obviously very well cared for. There is a petting pen, in which I delighted with several other children, all of us thrilled with the baby donkey in particular. The stables are currently home to many piglets, baby goats and fowl hatchlings, each of unusual, differing species. Out in the fields are yaks, goats, sheep, cows and their calves, poitou donkeys (and, at the moment, three babies!) loads more pigs and some teenaged piglets and a little recreation of centuries-old farmhouses with mud walls and thatched roofs. The signs to each field or enclosure tell you about the species contained within, where they come from, how endangered they are and why. With some enclosures you can feed the animals (namely sheep, goats and pigs) from bags of futter, available for purchase – the ark says, ‘stroking and touching is expressly desired, for it is only those things, which we know and love, which we will protect.’
Arche Warder both sells and uses its produce, working on the premise of, ‘to preserve old breeds for the future, they must once again become economically viable. As consumer demand for the products of heritage breeds increases, so will the number of heritage breeds bred and maintained, thus protecting them from extinction.’ While we were cooing over some piglets, in the next stall, a couple were purchasing a pair of goslings. The Arche Warder’s restaurant uses meat from its own animals – ‘animals that are not suitable for breeding are sold or used.’
I’m pretty sure SG wanted to take home a baby goat, and I thought long and hard over whether I could feasibly buy a piglet … but good Lord, you should have seen the size of the mother. So I settled for visiting each and every pig enclosure the park had, and there were many.
If you ever find yourself in or near Schleswig-Holstein, make the drive and go to this place. Just go. Go and see what they’re doing, meet an abundance of animals you probably never knew existed, inform yourself about how these species originated, what they were used for and why it is so important we conserve them. Support this admirable quest; ‘Arche Warder works to provide a future for endangered domestic animals. By retaining, breeding and dispersing these races, they again have a chance to be stricken from the red list of endangered animals.’