One of the biggest highlights from my recent trip to Cantabria was our day at Cabarceno Nature Park. The park is housed on a former Roman iron mine just down the road from Cantabrian capital Santander and is home to over 900 animals from 110 different species.
The park’s location in northern Spain’s lush green belt, nestled between the hills, mean that the views are just as pretty as the animals.
Just to give you a sense of the huge scale of the site, the elephant enclosure alone is larger than the whole of Madrid zoo and the bears have a 35 hectare enclosure all to themselves.
Here’s our ride for the day. We were taken around the park by one of the keepers – keeper-led tours are more expensive than standard tickets but are really worth the extra expense. You get to go behind the scenes of the park, visit places not usually open to public, feed the animals and learn loads about the wildlife and the ethos of the park.
First stop was the elephant enclosure, where we fed them apples for breakfast. We also saw how the keepers handle the elephants every day to get them used to human contact – this means that if they are ill, they can work with the animals without causing them further distress.
The elephant tribe is the biggest captive herd outside of Africa and their successful breeding programme has seen 14 calves born in just 17 years.
As I mentioned before, the park is built on the site of a mine. When the mine closed in 1989, the town’s mayor had a vision to build a wildlife park in his place. Locals thought his plan was pretty crazy but now love the park and go so far as to call him ‘visionary’. Mine workers who lost their jobs were retrained as keepers and groundsworkers.
How amazing are these giraffes?! Feeding them was so much fun.
This is Nadia – one of the park’s gorillas. While the other gorillas were sitting around relaxing, Nadia was skulking around in a rage – the keeper who was showing us around is a gorilla keeper and Nadia hates it when he gives anyone else attention. She spent the entire time scowling at us and banging on the glass. She apparently is very jealous of his girlfriend and gets grumpy when she comes to visit.
Bit of a random photo of a dog toy, I know. But the park give the animals toys and activities to ensure that their minds stay healthy – this is called enrichment and is a really important part of the animals’ daily routine.
The park also has a bird of prey centre – rescued birds are rehabilitated and, if possible, released back into the wild. If they can’t be returned, they are kept at the park and trained to take part in flying displays. These not only educate the public but helps keep the birds’ instincts sharp.
The park take their wildlife conservation role very seriously and all of the animals in the park are their for a reason – not just because they look pretty and attract the public. As well the crowd-pleasers like the elephants, giraffes and big cats, the park have other animals like horses, deer and cows that, despite being less exotic, still have conservation needs.
Entry prices at Cabarceno depend on the season and start at EUR18 adult / EUR12 child.
Keeper tours cost EUR100 per person for a morning tour, which lasts around 4 hours.
Full day tours cost EUR200 per person, including lunch. This is reduced to EUR160 per person for parties of four.