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The city mountains are his territory

At the tender age of just 24, already a full-blooded forestry and wildlife expert: Manuel Kapeller is indeed Salzburg’s official forester and gamekeeper. We talked with Manuel about his work – and about chamois on the soccer pitch.  

Above our heads, the branches form an iridescent bright green roof of leaves, while rustling can be clearly heard in the underbrush. High in the treetops, a polyphonic concert of chirping is being performed by the birds. The air smells of summer and forest. That said, we are far removed, literally and figuratively, from some remote alpine meadow. Rather, we find ourselves in the middle of Salzburg City – on the Kapuzinerberg to be precise. This 636 m high mountain above the right bank of the River Salzach is a small paradise unto itself. A popular recreation area, it is valued by locals and visitors alike. Due to its unique location, it even boasts a microclimate of its very own, similar to what you would normally only find in the high Alps. We also learn of another aspect of this place – practically verging on sensational. You see, for around 70 years this local Salzburg mountain has actually provided the habitat for truly a number of quite extraordinary residents: A small colony of chamois live on the Kapuzinerberg.

The story of the errant chamois buck

“If you can believe the story, in 1948 a male chamois managed to get completely lost and found himself on the Kapuzinerberg”, tells Manuel Kapeller. A native of Mittersill, Manuel originally applied for a job as a forester with Salzburg City. However, things turned out a little differently than he expected. Shortly after he began his new job, the city gamekeeper passed away and Manuel quickly realized that he wanted the job – as a kind of add-on to his forestry duties. That was in 2017. As the city gamekeeper, he is now also responsible for the chamois population on the Kapuzinerberg. Manuel picks up the thread of his story: “People regularly spotted the buck on the Kapuzinerberg. After about four years, the city fathers at that time decided that the best remedy for the lonely creature was to transport a semi-domesticated female chamois onto the mountain to provide him with a bit of companionship.”

“There’s a chamois messing around on the soccer pitch”

The attempt to play matchmaker succeeded, with around one dozen chamois living on the Kapuzinerberg to this day – a rarity you simply won’t encounter anywhere else in the world. “At the moment we have 13 chamois I have seen with my own eyes”, says Manuel.  The city gamekeeper also reveals that there are two kids in the herd. So that the chamois continue to feel at home on the city mountain, twice a week Manuel stops by to check up on them and make sure they’re “behaving”. As Manuel points out with a smile: “Every now and then, they have been known to wander down into the city to see what they can find to eat.” In fact, people have “bumped into” chamois from the Kapuzinerberg in many different corners of Salzburg. “One time, someone phoned me from the soccer grounds next to the Borromäum”, grins Manuel, “and he asked me if I can come right over because there’s a chamois messing around on the soccer pitch.” Manuel can’t hold back a laugh. In all likelihood, the adventurous chamois had caught sight of the succulent green grass of the soccer pitch from up on the mountain, the city gamekeeper explains, and had wandered down from the mountain overnight so as to graze there. “Though normally”, Manuel adds, “they do find their way back up the mountain if you just give them a little bit of time.” 

Focus on forest- and game management

Though working around chamois is something truly special: His duties are mainly focused on forest- and game management. He goes on to explain, “Around 80% of my work revolves around forestry. In addition to me, the city’s master forester, Josef Brawisch, oversees the better part of 165 ha of city forest. The Mönchsberg, Kapuzinerberg, Hellbrunnerberg, Josefiau, Salzachsee-Saalachspitz and Königswäldchen are for the most part owned by the city and legally protected as forest recreation areas.”

Guided Tours of the Forest

Part of his duties include his dedicated engagement as a forest educator. “Josef Brawisch and I lead regular tours of the forests”, Manuel tells us. “Josef has been taking care of city forests for the better part of 27 years now. For example, once a year we have our so-called ‘Forest Week’, during which, amongst other things, we explain to the general public how the forest is looked after through the changing seasons. Everyone is invited to participate, you don’t even have to register in advance.” Manuel points out that forest management has to take into account several variables, including cultural history, ecology as well as the visitors themselves. “Primarily, we are focused on preserving the forests and guaranteeing the safety of visitors. The forests here in the city are mainly used for recreation, which means we have to keep them as safe as possible.” With that in mind, any trees we find that are clearly damaged are removed so they don’t present a danger to hikers. And since we bring up the subject of hikers, Manuel has one request: “It’s really important – if you take your dog with you onto the city mountains, especially to woodland areas – that you keep your dog on a leash at all times”.

Variety, chamois and pure nature

We stand at one of the lookout points that treat you to sensational views of Hohensalzburg Fortress and the Untersberg. In conclusion, we ask him what’s the best part of his job. Manuel allows his eyes to roam along the horizon for a moment, pausing for thought. “It is the constant variety. No two days are the same. Enforcing forestry regulations, writing reports, looking for chamois – there is always something to do. Roughly half of my working day I spend at a desk, the other half in nature.”  No sooner has the word “nature” passed his lips than the eyes of the young city forester and gamekeeper light up and he is unable to hold back a smile: “Ah yes, nature! It is just so incredibly beautiful here.”