Cabárceno Nature Park in Cantabria, Northern Spain, is not like other wildlife parks. 75 hectares in size and situated in an old Roman iron mine, it is the biggest wildlife park in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. The former toxic mining zone has been transformed into a wildlife haven, where endangered primates, big cats and European bison can roam in semi-freedom.
I’m not a fan of zoos and aquariums; I don’t like seeing animals in captivity, torn from their homes and forced to live their lives essentially in prison. I don’t like the old argument that it’s a great way to learn about animals – how much could you learn about humans by watching incarcerated prisoners? However, Cabárceno is different. I’ve never seen a wildlife park with such large spaces for the animals – we spent over 7 hours driving around the 20km of roads that circle the park, and still didn’t see everything.
Hippos laze happily in quarried lakes, sable antelope gallop alongside ostriches and girraffes. In Cabárceno, unlike most zoos, you’re not guaranteed to see animals, the enclosures are large enough for animals to easily hide. It is also a haven for Spanish wildlife – buzzards, hawks and kites constantly glide overhead, ducks and gulls splash in lakes alongside hippos and thirsty zebras.
Of course, it still doesn’t compare to seeing animals in the true wild. The excitement of walking and stumbling across wild boar, deer or even the knowledge that there are animals and you may or may not see them cannot be replicated. That, in itself, is one of the joys of hiking and climbing – never knowing what may be just around the corner.
Below are some photos from our visit – the highlight for us being the brown bears. What’s your favourite?
European Brown Bears
Barbary Macaque and Fallow Deer
And finally, the most ferocious animal in the park