Animals in Switzerland: Cows, birds, ibex and other wildlife to see
In a country where the most popular things to do and places to see are all in the great outdoors, it’s no surprise to find that wildlife in Switzerland is an ever-present part of living in the country. To prime you on what there is to see on your next hike, here’s a guide to animals in Switzerland, what Swiss wildlife has to offer and whether there is a national animal of Switzerland to look out for.
What is the national animal of Switzerland?
While the Edelweiss may be its national flower, Helvetia its personification and Fondue its national dish, there is no official national animal of Switzerland. Despite some attempts to hold a referendum on the topic, the government has never given one species the title.
Animal symbols associated with Switzerland
Despite this, there has been some consensus on what animals are most commonly associated with Switzerland. These are:
Cows in Switzerland
According to the Association for the Swiss National Animal, thanks to an unofficial vote in 2021, cows should become the national symbol of Switzerland. It’s easy to see why, with cows integral to the production of the alpine nation’s most famous products like milk chocolate and cheese.
As of December 2022, over 1,5 million cows are registered as living in Switzerland, and much of life, especially in the mountains, revolves around the moving and grazing of cattle. They can be found across the country depending on the season. In spring and summer, they can be found grazing in high alpine pastures, while during the autumn they travel down from the mountains - in a tradition called the alpine cow parade or cattle homecoming - before spending the winter months indoors.
St. Bernard and other dogs
Another solid contender for Switzerland’s national symbol is the St. Bernard. Originally bred as guide and rescue dogs for use in the alpine passes between Switzerland and Italy, the 90-centimetre tall, 80-kilogram dogs have largely been retired from their role and are now just trusty canine companions the world over.
Traditionally, St. Bernards were sent into hard-to-reach areas of the Alps to identify those in distress - equipped with small barrels of brandy to revive any waylaid traveller. During the First World War, they were even used to transport supplies to Italian soldiers high in the mountains.
With their distinctive curved horns, the ibex is also a worthy candidate for being Switzerland’s national animal. The alpine ibex - also known as the Steinbock - makes its home, as the name suggests, high in the Swiss Alps.
One of their most notable characteristics is their dexterity and ability to stand on tiny cliffs and precipices. While not dangerous to humans, as they are grazing animals, don’t get between them during breeding season as they usually fight for mates by aggressively locking antlers.
Finally, a more quirky option for a Swiss national animal could be the marmot, the cutest critter on the list. The marmot’s main aim in life is to eat as much food as possible during the spring, summer and autumn before hibernating over the winter. They can be found right across the Swiss Alps, especially in ski resorts in the summer.
Marmots themselves are a species of ground squirrel that have been around since the Ice Age. A notable thing about them is their friendliness towards humans, with the creatures not afraid to get up close and personal with hikers and tourists, making them even more endearing.
Video: Ken Geerinck / YouTube
Do Swiss cantons have official animals?
- Lion: Zurich, Lucerne, Thurgau
- Bear: Bern, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden
- Bull: Uri
- Ram: Schaffhausen
- Ibex: Graubünden
- Eagle: Geneva
Across the rest of the country, a great number of individual towns and villages use animals on their crests, the most common being bears and eagles.
Is there a national bird of Switzerland?
As with the national animal, there is also no national bird of Switzerland. Some online have incorrectly suggested that the turaco is the national bird, but this stems from the fact that the sub-saharan species is actually the national bird of Swaziland.
In terms of population size, the national bird of Switzerland should either be the sparrow, the blackbird or the magpie. If size is a factor then the national bird should be the bearded vulture - Switzerland’s largest and rarest bird.
Switzerland also plays host to several birds of prey including common buzzards and red and black kites. There is also a healthy owl population.
Animals in Switzerland: What to look out for
As with most countries, animals in Switzerland are defined by geography, with each region playing host to a diverse range of flora and fauna. To help budding wildlife spotters along, here’s what you should expect to see in each Swiss region.
Wildlife in the Swiss Alps and Jura
Arguably the most unique wildlife in Switzerland can be found high up in the Swiss Alps and Juran mountains. Animals that call the mountains home have to deal with incredibly mixed conditions, ranging from dry and warm summers to bitterly cold, wet and snowy winters.
This makes the native animals of the Alps and Jura quite hardy, from the foraging ibex, deer and chamois goats to the marmots and mountain hares who rely on hibernation to get themselves through winter.
Some of the highlights of the Alps include the massive bearded vultures - which nearly went extinct but were reintroduced in the 1980s - and the lynx. Lynx were reintroduced to the Alps in 1971 and today over 170 wild cats call the alpine nation home.
Wildlife in the Mittelland
As it is home to two-thirds of the population, and is the flattest, most arable part of the country, the wildlife in the Mittelland of Switzerland is determined by farming and agriculture. The region - which spans the entire country from west to east and encompasses all the major Swiss cities - is home to many domesticated species like cows, sheep, goats and other livestock.
Nevertheless, in less developed areas, nature watchers can still see smaller forest animals like deer and hedgehogs, along with a great range of stunning birds of prey, owls and even bats at night.
Swiss wildlife: The cities
Finally, while Swiss cities have less wildlife than the rest of the country, they are still home to a number of different animals. These include foxes, hedgehogs, and the more common city dwellers like mice, rats and other vermin.
Common questions about Switzerland and its animals
With the basis established, here are answers to some of the most common questions about Switzerland and its animals.
What are the main predators in Switzerland?
While there are no animals that constitute a significant threat to humans, there are a number of predators that call Switzerland home.
Are there any wolves?
On the ground, Switzerland’s most common predator is the wolf - around 180 wolves now live in Switzerland, with most being found in Canton Graubünden and on the border with Italy. Wolves are pack animals, with groups ranging from a handful of individuals, right up to 100-strong packs.
While they do pose a threat to farmers' livelihoods - 1.000 livestock animals were killed by wolves in Switzerland in 2022 - they do not pose an immediate threat to humans. If you do encounter a wolf, stand your ground, act aggressively and maintain eye contact.
Are there bears in Switzerland?
There is no permanent resident bear population in Switzerland, although an average of one brown bear is spotted crossing the Swiss border with Italy every year, but they usually return after a short period of time. Switzerland’s last resident wild bear was shot in 2013.
Bears used to be a common sight in Switzerland, but were gradually eradicated as they posed a threat to livestock. They can still be seen in Swiss zoos, animal parks and most famously the "Bear Pit" in Bern.
Are there snakes in Switzerland?
Switzerland is home to nine different species of snake. Venomous snakes in the alpine nation include the asp viper and the adder. Other non-venomous species include the smooth snake, grass snake, dice snake, aesculapian snake, green whip snake, southern smooth snake and barred grass snake.
Snakes can be found in non-built-up areas, ranging from the Alps to the lowlands. If you are bitten by a snake and are unsure what species it was, please visit a doctor.
Does Switzerland have ticks?
Ticks are present in all areas of Switzerland below 1.500 metres above sea level. A number of these ticks have the potential to carry Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis and are most active between March and October.
They are common in long grasses and can attach themselves to both humans and pets, so be sure to check for ticks after long walks. For more information, check out our guide to ticks in Switzerland.
Switzerland is also home to a number of species of spider, with funnel web spiders and cross orbweavers the most common species. A number of species, like the invasive Nosferatu spider, are venomous, but none are considered deadly.
Wild animals in Switzerland
Thanks to its geographic diversity, there are a number of fascinating wild animals in Switzerland that just have to be seen. Have an animal you think everyone should know about? Let us know in the comments below!