Feeding elephants and giraffes at Cabárceno Nature Park, CantabriaMonday, 16 June 2014
I know that I compare a lot of things to Jurassic Park. Pretty much any volcanic tropical isle I see leaves me humming the theme tune. But what if you combine the same rugged terrain, but add huge, rather dinosaur-like animals to it? And jump into a jeep to see them all roam the land?
Well, you get so close to the movie that I might as well be a greased up Jeff Goldblum.
Cabárceno Nature Park is spread out over a huge amount of rocky, mountainous land. Once a major area for iron mining, the 750 hectares are now filled with a wide variety of animals from all over the world, all cared for by passionate environmentalists. Conservation and education is the name of the game here, and the land is free for you to explore by car, bike or foot.
I was lucky enough to go as part of their new "Visit Wild" programme, which allows visitors to get up close and personal with the animals. We started with the elephants.
Just look at all the fabulous land they get to call their own...
One poor little bugger was left behind, due to an aggressive alpha female who cannot stand seeing her with the herd. Once the others have been out for a while, she's allowed to sneak around and play as well. Until then, it was breakfast time...
Next up - brown bears. We switched from our jeep to a land rover, complete with a man in the back packing two guns. Just in case.
The entrance was very Jurassic Park indeed. The first land rover went in ahead of us, securely locked behind a double gate. Once they were through, we followed. Nervously.
The keepers ahead of us threw out the meat and oranges for the bears, who leapt upon it all, thankfully ignoring us.
It was quite the sight to behold, but I was pretty glad when we made our exit. I was also tickled pink when I realised that Patrick, who was sat in front of me, hadn't shut his door properly at the start, and was effectively one bump in the road away from being bear food.
We went on to see rhinos, zebras and a whole host of other creatures, but I was most excited about the giraffes...
They really are the most beautiful creatures.
The final visit of the day was to the gorilla enclosure, where we met a woman who was so in love with her animals her face lit up when she told us all about them.
This is Nicky, the silver back king of the pack.
He has two gorilla lady friends, both with a littleun in tow. There's also an older female, but he sees her more as a mother. Nicky was rescued from a circus, and had only known human life. She helped him adjust to life as a 'proper' gorilla.
The babies were, hands down, the cutest monkeys I've ever seen. Swinging from the ropes, climbing up their mums and never leaving their side, they both eventually cuddled in for naps. And everyone breathed a huge sigh of adoration.
Gorillas are fascinating creatures, socially. A silver back can have more than one partner, and they all live together in harmony. Apparently, a female will only become pregnant once she is settled in a pack and completely trusts the male. She stays with her baby for around four years, breastfeeding for all of that time, and never lets the baby leave her side.
Regular entry into the park costs from €18 for an adult, and €12 for a child. Visitors on a regular ticket are self guided, and see the animals from more of a distance. The Visit Wild day ticket costs €160pp for a group of 4, up to €200pp for a group of two. Children are half the price.
You're accompanied by a park expert for the entire duration of the trip, and get closer than you could ever imagine to the animals, with the chance to feed most of them. There's also a fantastic lunch included in the park's restaurant, overlooking the giraffe field. The visit lasts around 7 hours.
The park is around 15km from Santander.