The Castellar Zoo, located just outside of the village of Castellar de la Frontera, approximately ten minutes inland from Sotogrande, is not your average zoo. It opened in 1998 as a private animal sanctuary, rescuing animals that had been seized by customs or by the police whilst being illegally smuggled over the border into Spain. In fact, it is no coincidence that the zoo is located so close to the border between Europe and Africa, and some of the creatures that arrive at the centre have had the most horrific start to life. These animals have been ill treated, malnourished and often forced into tiny boxes or cages for long periods of time, regardless of the temperature, with little or no food or water. The zoo is home to a great variety of animals that have all been rescued; from exotic birds that were seized whilst being smuggled to trade on the black market, to tigers, a hyena, pot-bellied pigs, emus, monkeys and over 500 creatures of 120 different species in total. After their gruelling ordeal in transit, the animals have to endure a little longer pent up in quarantine before they can finally be released to the centre where they are given a second chance at life. Whilst continuing to function as a rescue sanctuary, the zoo decided to open its doors to the public in 2002 in order to raise funds for the ever-increasing number of animals and also to educate visitors to their plight. Despite having been open as an official zoo for over ten years now, Castellar is still relatively unknown by most on the Costa del Sol because there has been very little publicity or advertising as the zoo’s approach has been to spend all they can on the animals. Over the past couple of years though, they have seen an increase in visitors thanks to word of mouth of so many happy visitors who all proclaim this to be an ‘unforgettable experience’ and an ‘opportunity not to be missed’. The centre is very basic and has a wild and unfussy feel where visitors are encouraged to get stuck in, to participate and to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible at close range with all of the creatures. Rather than standing, observing the animals from afar and from behind the bars of a cage, the workers of the zoo allow children to climb into pens to pet, feed and even hold baby tigers in their arms. This interactive approach is what really sets Castellar apart from so many other zoos, and this freedom and lack of boundaries is something they promote in order to strengthen the relationship between animals and humans. The zoo has managed to create an environment and an experience that both parties can gain from and that will last longer than an afternoon at the centre. Creatures that have been abused and mistreated at the hands of humans are taught to trust and gain confidence once more and we, the visitors, are encouraged to show tenderness, understanding and compassion – especially children, in order to raise a generation educated in the humane treatment of animals. Some more cautious parents may be wary to allow their children inside the pens and enclosures but the members of staff at hand are all very attentive, the animals tame and friendly and all areas of the zoo are well controlled. Whether you are feeding the beautiful birds, petting pigs or holding a real baby tiger, you will certainly have a day out to remember and the Castellar Zoo really is an experience not to be missed for little children – and adult children alike! Zoo de Castellar