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

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.

Madrid’s Atocha railway station is about to lose its famous turtles
Photo: Jim Whitehead /Flickr

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.


PETA offers cash to ban Pamplona’s famous running of the bulls forever

With the news last week that the Spanish city of Pamplona in Navarra has been forced to cancel its bull running fiesta for the second year running due to the Covid crisis, animal rights activists have seized on the opportunity to call for it to be banned permanently.

PETA offers cash to ban Pamplona’s famous running of the bulls forever
A shot from the encierro on July 7th 2019. Photo: AFP

PETA are writing to the mayor of Pamplona with the offer of €298,000 if the Navarran city ceases the use of bulls during their fiesta altogether.

“People around the world, including in Spain, say it’s past time the torment and slaughter of animals for human entertainment were stopped,” says PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk in her appeal to Pamplona mayor, Enrique Maya.

“Now is the moment to be on the right side of history. We hope you will accept our offer and allow Pamplona to reinvent itself for the enjoyment of all.”

Each morning during the eight day festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, which bursts into celebration at midday on July 6th, six fighting bulls and six steers are released to run through the narrow streets of the old town to the bullring where the bulls are killed in the evening corridas.

Hundreds run alongside the animals in the morning dash which often results in gorings, and injuries from being stomped on after runners lose their footing in the crowds.

The festival, which was made world famous by Ernest Hemingway, who set his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises” during San Fermin, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the party each year.

The festival, which sees Pamplona’s population swell from just under 200,000 to more than a million, is estimated to bring an annual boost of €74 million to Pamplona businesses, according to an association of fighting bull breeders.

PETA’s offer is the latest in a long campaign to ban what it calls “Pamplona’s annual bloodbath”.

Together with Spanish groupAnimaNaturalis, the activists stage peaceful protests ahead of the start of the festival year.

The city’s former mayor, Joseba Asirón, supported the protests, describing them as “fair and honest”.

Speaking to reporters about the groups’ calls to remove bull runs from the festival, he said, “[T]his is a debate that sooner or later we will have to put on the table. For a very simple reason, and that is that basing the festival on the suffering of a living being, in the 21st century, is something that, at best, we have to rethink.”

Since the pandemic began festivals across Spain have been cancelled but corridas were allowed last summer with limited occupancy and with social distancing and Covid-19 measures in place.

But although Spain’s bullfighting lobby is strong, there is a general trend away from it.

In a poll published in 2019 by online newspaper El Español, over 56 percent of Spaniards said they were against bullfighting, while only 24.7 were in favour. Some 18.9 percent said they were indifferent.

Support was significantly higher among conservative voters, it showed.