Playing with Wolves – Riopar, Castilla la Mancha

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june-04This is a great place to visit. I am sure that we will go again as we have more than one good reason to return there. The old village of Riopar sits on a rocky outcrop with some outstanding views. It is almost totally holiday accommodation now but it does have a bar. The new town of Riopar- more accurately titled San Juan- lies on a flatter terrain but encircled with mountains with the highest one being a little over 1700 metres. Spain’s economic plight has left its mark here but there is still some bustle and it is an interesting place to visit. This was a photographic trip and the cameras were busy on all three days. As far as I was concerned it was to see everything but with a special interest on anything flying. Friday was a cool one with only a few butterflies showing. Amongst the trees and vegetation there was birdsong with Blackcap singing beautifully but it required patience to even see one. Saturday saw us enter the gorge where the river exits from a high limestone cliff. We will be going back simply because after rain, when the atmospheric pressure helps to drive the water out it comes out of the rock face horizontally. It is some sight to see, I have been told. On this second day the sun was hot and this brought out dozens of beautiful butterflies. Over the three days we saw over ten different species which included the Scarce Swallowtail. Bird wise I was disappointed as we only saw a few Griffin Vultures and nothing else. The others wanted to see their first eagle and I was on constant lookout but there really was hardly anything flying to see.

Sunday morning was the best part. We were taken to a private animal sanctuary by Juan Zamora who was born here and has an active interest in wildlife and photography. We saw Eagle Owls and birds of prey that had been rescued after being shot by the hunters. There were deer, mufflon and boar in enclosures and such is the care being taken, their environment allows them to breed successfully. We saw two adult wolves and two of their offspring. They were nine months old, one being a male and the other one a bitch which were kept in a separate area. She came to the wire and nuzzled my fingers through the wire fence. The best bit was to come. I went in the enclosure with Michelle and Marian. The dog was apprehensive and kept himself slightly away but you could see that he did want some contact. It was obvious that they both knew Juan for both came to him. The female soon made contact and played with all three of us. She delighted in putting her mouth around a forearm and showed her gleaming white teeth. There was not a mark on anyone. What a wonderful experience this was. The photograph is one of the parents of the female wolf we played with. I would not normally be in favour of humans coming into contact with wild animals in such a way but these were born in captivity and were already used to the human animal. Without breeding programmes the small wild populations cannot be supplemented. There are wild wolf populations in Spain but unfortunately not large ones. I know of two vulture release programmes and I also know that the Lynx population is being supported by captive breeding. If only the hunters would shoot less, then there would be sustainable populations of several species. The last reason for a return visit is to undertake a two day photographic course with Juan. This is scheduled for October and then we can see this area in its autumn colour. Sounds like a good idea to me.