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Madrid’s Atocha railway station is about to lose its famous turtles

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Madrid’s Atocha railway station is about to lose its famous turtles
Photo: Jim Whitehead /Flickr
15:23 CET+01:00
Anyone travelling through Madrid’s Atocha railway station will have taken a moment to pause in wonder at the towering lush palms and tropical foliage soaring above the station’s concourse beneath its vast arched ceiling.

The botanical gardens, created in the old train landings left vacant with the modern extension to its rear, provide a tropical oasis where weary travellers pause for a few relaxing minutes before hurrying on to catch their trains.

While parakeets screech high above, it’s the habitat at the base of the palms, in a swamp among the Malabar chestnut trees, that has become a tourist draw in its own right; for it is here that a colony of more than 300 turtles live.

Until now.

Overpopulation of the turtle ponds has led to such overcrowding and sanitation problems that the turtles are facing permanent eviction.

Railway infrastructure firm Adif announced an agreement to transfer the reptiles to a new home at the Fauna y Naturaleza 'José Peña' wildlife park in Navas del Rey.

The announcement comes after a long campaign by animal rights activists who spoke out against the deplorable condition of the Atocha turtle ponds that had become so overcrowded that the terrapins had turned to cannibalism to keep the population down.

The majority of the creatures are unwanted pets abandoned when they grew too big, or boring to be kept at home.

And an estimated 80 percent of the Atocha population are red-eared terrapins (Trachemys scripta elegans) also known as red-eared sliders, a non-native invader species which are territorial and aggressive.

Station staff regularly had to remove dead and mutilated turtles and in recent years the water became infected from rotten food thrown by visitors.


Photo: Melissa Jones / Flickr

The turtles’ will be transferred to a new enclosure at the wildlife park 60km east of Madrid where they will enjoy an enclosure of more than 300m2 complete with a 160m2 pond of varying depths and with plenty of rocks to enable sun basking.

The ponds will be drained and concreted over and waiting for a train at Atocha will never be the same again.

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