Castellar Zoo is a rescue center for animals which been seized by customs or police. As a private scantuary, the zoo receives no government funding. Their aim is to rehabilitate the animals and provide an c/appreciation center for the public. Writer Robin Graham interacted with the animals, which is encouraged. Or maybe, they interacted with him. Located in Castellar de la Frontera near Sotogrande.
By Robin Graham
An albino porcupine and a kinkajou.
We are in a sad place that is becoming a happy one. There’s a cafetería (of course – this is Spain), but we head straight past it and on up the path that winds between the enclosures. The porcupine was one of the first here – it’s an emblem of the place. Then there’s the emu and the llamas, the aviary of tiny, flitting birds, and the guinea pigs.
At the top of the hill, tigers. Around the corner from them, an ocelot and some mandrills. The ocelot paces ceaselessly and growls from end to end of its small enclosure, beautiful and unhappy. Most if not all of the enclosures are small. The place reminds me of a Victorian zoo.
And where are the staff? There are people feeding the animals, standing on enclosure walls, leaning over, interacting with the buzzards and macaques, the barbary apes and the geese, the papios, peacocks and ring-tailed lemurs.
I don’t even like big modern zoos, usually, but this place is different. We don’t know when the kinkajou got here but we’re pretty sure it’s lucky it did. For all its limitations, the Zoo de Castellar is the last chance saloon for its residents – over eighty percent of them victims of the illegal trade in animals, here because they have been seized by the authorities.
The other twenty percent find themselves here because the zoo doesn’t like to see an animal alone, and will go to great efforts to find a mate.
The eccentricity of the place is beyond doubt – many of the enclosing structures have a home-made appearance. It began life as a private enterprise and is testament, despite its inadequacies, to someone’s love and commitment.
We finally encounter a member of staff who walks past us with the kinkajou on his head. With gushing and contagious enthusiasm he explains that the creature is a cousin of the racoon, and lets us hold the little fella. We tell him we think the ocelot is distressed and he agrees.
“We can’t get him to just relax”, he tells us. “He’s been very badly mistreated. We’re organising a much larger enclosure for him and we’re looking for a lady ocelot”.
I am reassured, and convinced by this place. On our way out we pass a parrot, happily perching on a table next to some picnickers, ready to swoop in on their leftovers or waiting for a handout. We pass a handsome hyena and some Vietnamese pigs.
Back in reception we read about the history of the place since its inception in ’98 and its opening to the public in ’02. We read about its utter dependence on entrance fees and its total commitment to improving facilities and to animal welfare.
Reason enough, surely, to come here and fork out a few euros, never mind that the surrounding countryside is a beautiful Natural Park and the animals so enchanting.
LOCATION: Cerro del Moro, Castellar de la Frontera
TEL: (0034) 607 910 393
Robin Graham’s work can be seen on his blog, www.alotofwind.com