Creating a wildlife park with Ricardo Almazán

We speak to Ricardo Almazán, rewilder and director of La Maleza Wildlife Park in Teruel...

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Protecting swathes of natural landscape, and involved in the release of Spain’s first semi-wild herd of the specially bred cattle called tauros, Parque de Fauna La Maleza (La Maleza Wildlife Park) is paving the way for a wilder, more biodiverse future in the Iberian Highlands. The park’s director, Ricardo Almazán, discusses the work being carried out, and explains how you can visit and what to expect here.

Photo by Lidia Valverde

Photo by Lidia Valverde

How did La Maleza become a wildlife park and rewilding centre?

The park used to be a zoo, with bears and other large animals in tiny cages. It broke my heart to see them like that. When the zoo closed, my husband and I sold our business and bought these 23 hectares of land [in south-west Aragon] with a vision to conserve the natural landscape and turn it into a sanctuary for rescued animals. Our ultimate goal was to teach people about the wild species that once roamed freely across Spain. The rewilding project came later, when Rewilding Spain contacted me to help facilitate the release of the first herd of tauros – a cow bred to behave like the extinct aurochs – and semi-wild Pottoka ponies.

La Maleza Park

La Maleza Park

What animals do you have there?

We house only animals that are native to the Iberian Highlands or well suited to this environment, such as Iberian wolves and foxes, ibex, wild boar and deer. All of our animals are here because they cannot be released into the wild, usually because of injury or because they have been born in captivity elsewhere and would no longer be able to survive in the wild.

Photo by Lidia Valverde

Photo by Lidia Valverde

How is La Maleza different from a zoo?

First, the enclosures are much bigger than in zoos, and built in harmony with the natural landscape. Because of this, the animals spend most of the day undisturbed by humans, in a state of semi-freedom. The only time visitors will see the wolves, for example, is during public feeding time, once a day.

The types of animals we rescue are also an important differentiator. We accept only species that are naturally adapted to this landscape and climate – so no penguins or giraffes. This is because, first, it’s cruel to keep animals in environments they’re not used to, and second, we want to teach people about animals native to this region.

But the biggest difference is our approach to education, which is centred around rewilding. At a zoo, you walk past animals – many of which have been bred specifically for captivity – behind a glass window or in a wire cage. Maybe there’s an information plaque to explain what the animal eats and how big it grows. But here, we want to make people think. Most days, I give talks about our wolves, foxes and tauros, explaining why they’re under threat and how important they could be in regenerating our landscapes.

We want people to question how they think about wildlife, especially the species that are often misunderstood or demonised, such as wolves and foxes.

Photo by Lidia Valverde

Photo by Lidia Valverde

What's the best way to visit?

I recommend arriving in the morning, and to spend some time walking our marked trails, which take in all of our animal enclosures. Then join our educational talks on the tauro (12.30pm), the Iberian wolf (1pm), and the fox (1.30pm), at which you’ll learn about the species and their impacts on the environment. In the case of the wolves and foxes, you’ll also be able to see them feeding during these times.

If you’re here between spring and autumn, finish your visit with a sunset safari to our nearby rewilding territory, where you’ll be able to see herds of free-roaming tauros and endangered Pottoka ponies.

La Maleza Park

La Maleza Park

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The process of protecting an environment and returning it to its natural state; for example, bringing back wild animals that used to live there (Cambridge Dictionary).

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