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It’s astonishing to think that, even in this day and age, there is still an illegal trade in wildlife, whether that’s the animals themselves or their by-products (elephant tusks and rhino horns for example).  

In the village of Castellar de la Frontera there’s a small zoo which looks after animals that have been rescued by police or customs from this black market in animal trading. Given the zoo’s close proximity to the Straits of Gibraltar many of the animals, often destined to be exotic pets, arrived there as victims of smuggling between Europe and Africa.  

The zoo opened to the public in 2002 after operating for several years as a private animal rescue centre and is very focused on education to ensure that visitors are made aware of the importance of wildlife conservation.

There is a huge variety of birds and mammals being looked after which gives some idea of the extent of the size of the black market in animal trading – big cats (lion and tiger cubs) rescued from a circus, small cats (ocelots and lynx), birds of all types from chickens to vultures, reptiles large and small, various breeds of monkey, an albino giant porcupine, not to mention the less exotic pigs, goats, rabbits and guinea pigs.  

There’s a petting zoo area for the latter and it’s also possible to interact with some of the more exotic animals. It’s worth mentioning that this interaction with the public is very well controlled – so is only for short periods at certain times – and the staff are respectful of the animals in their care making sure that they don’t get stressed by this hands-on activity.

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The animals all seem well cared for (there is a veterinary clinic onsite – essential when you consider that a lot of the animals arrive in poor condition, perhaps having been held in small cages for considerable periods of time) and the staff that I encountered on my visit were very knowledgeable about their charges. While parts of the zoo may not appear to be in the best of conditions, it’s worth noting that the zoo has no government funding and relies solely on entrance fees and donations for its upkeep.

Getting there

The zoo is located in Castellar de la Frontera on the edge of the Los Alcornocales National Park and is well signposted and easily accessed from the A7 and around 10km from Sotogrande. There’s extensive parking outside the zoo which is free.

Opening Hours and Prices

The zoo is open every day from 10am until dusk and entry costs €17 per adult and €11 per child. It’s also possible to buy annual tickets which range from €30 for one adult to €100 for a family ticket (two adults and two children). Check out their website for all the offers.

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