Inspiration Alejandro  González Luna

Discover Cabárceno’s wild side

Located on a former mine 20km from Santander, Cabárceno Natural Park is an animal sanctuary that covers more than 800 hectares. One of its primary objectives is to recover and preserve numerous endangered species. Internationally recognised, the park is known for its innovative projects to help animals including tigers, lions, rhinoceros, bison, brown bears and elephants. Here, we take a look at these initiatives in Cantabria that meld science with nature.

Saving the African elephant

On 8 January 2021 – after a gestation of 20 months and 18 days – Cabárceno Natural Park announced the milestone birth of a new 86kg African elephant called Neco. This feat was thanks to a pioneering programme carried out by the park together with the Deutsches Primatenzentrum and the University of Gottingen. The programme makes it possible to learn about the female African elephant’s sex cycle using non-invasive methods (in other words, based on stool and urine samples). This technique has made it possible to reproduce 22 of these pachyderms, making the park home to the largest herd of this endangered species outside of Africa.

The elephants living in Cabárceno Natural Park, 20km from Santander (Cantabria).
The elephants live here in a 25-hectare natural setting and enjoy a pool that holds more than five million litres of water / Image by Ben Roberts

Science working tirelessly to save the Cantabrian brown bear

The brown bear is a fascinating creature, but the current low population of the animal – which still lives in the Cantabrian mountain range – is seriously endangered due to many of them being distantly related. In order to ensure the future of these animals in the region (and also of the bear populations inhabiting the Iberian Peninsula), Cabárceno works with experts from the Biotechnology Department of the University of León to put the final touches on an innovative reproduction technique. This technique consists of obtaining, preserving and applying the semen of the black bear. The brown bear is a protected species in Spain and a priority in the European Union, as laid down by the Habitats Directive.

Cabárceno Natural Park in Cantabria is fighting to ensure the future of the brown bear in the region and across the entire Iberian Peninsula.
Cabárceno Natural Park has become a major brown bear reserve, with dozens of specimens living in a 33-hectare space / Image by Ben Roberts

Genetic reserve of the European bison

In late 2020, Cabárceno was chosen by the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) as one of ten installations in Europe where a major reproductive programme will be carried out to ensure the genetic diversity of bison. To do this, the park has added two specimens of the lowland subspecies from Poland to its herd. Cabárceno already had five females born in the enclosure, which is large, six-hectare space. The recovery of this species considered sensitive is a joint project of different European countries.

A major reproductive programme is being carried out in Cabárceno Natural Park; its aim is to ensure the genetic diversity of bison.
Today, there are an estimated 6,000 bison in Europe. Many of them have a high degree of consanguinity (bring related by blood), which makes them vulnerable to diseases such as foot-and-mouth. The purpose of this initiative is to convert Cabárceno into a genetic sanctuary for the species / Image by Ben Roberts

A home for species that are at risk of extinction

In recent years, the park has also made key efforts to conserve other species at risk of disappearing, with initiatives such as the programme dedicated to monitoring the oestrus cycles of female lions. It also has reproductive programme designed to monitoring the oestrus cycles of female lions, along with reproductive programmes for lynxes and gorillas (whose space – one of Europe’s largest – was visited some years ago by the famous ethologist Jane Goodall). There’s also a programme for white tigers, of which very few remain worldwide, and a reproductive project for the white rhinoceros. Part of the European Protection Programme, caring for this animal requires great expertise and the right facilities, since it has great difficulty in reproducing in captivity.

The Eurasian lynxes in Cabárceno, 20km from Santander, like to remain close to the middle of their space, near the Rubí viewpoint.
The Eurasian lynx is the largest wild feline in Europe. In Cabárceno, they tend to stay near the middle of their area, near the Rubí viewpoint / Image by Ben Roberts

The wild visit

Fly to Santander from 4,500 Avios each way and learn all about these programmes yourself with Visita Salvaje (Wild Visit):

You can also talk to the knowledgeable staff when you visit Cabárceno. These experts will tell you about the park’s philosophy, and lead you on an exploration to see where the bears hibernate, the elephant boxes, the areas for the giraffes, gorillas, rhinoceros, Grévy’s zebras... The itinerary also includes a ride on the cable car and lunch at the park’s restaurant. There’s a two-person minimum.


Get tickets for Cabárceno here 

What animals are there in Cabárceno Natural Park? 

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