A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals
Selections From The Ark Number 202 - Spring 2006
It was on Mount Ararat that Noah’s Ark made landfall so many millennia ago. Today on the lower slopes of Mount Aitana, in the Guadalest Valley in Spain, another Ark, called El Arca, gives sanctuary to animals and birds whose lives have been blighted and threatened by human cruelty
BY JENNIFER M. HOPKINS-HOLDER MBE
What kind of world do we live in when such beautiful creatures as I saw on that August afternoon can be abused so badly that another Ark is needed to save them from the abuse of human beings? We are made in the image of God, able to love, capable of ethical relationships and having aesthetic appreciation. But we have so marred that image that God’s love and respect for all life is not in us.
The first creation story tells us: ‘He looked upon all that He had made and, behold, it was very good.’ Psalm 104 tells us that God delights in the joy of life of the wild species, as they pursue their natural ways, and he shows loving kindness to all his creatures. He gave human-kind responsibility to husband and care for his creation as its guardians. Instead we have sought to subdue and destroy it, and have shown contempt for what so many have regarded as ‘lower’ forms of life.
The sanctuary El Arca
The sanctuary El Arca educates its visitors to value life in all its forms. To use animals for food does not give us licence to abuse them. Factory farming places animals in mass-confinement, animal concentration camps, where all their natural instincts are denied – no room for maternal care, no room to roam, to feel the grass, the sun and the rain. St Francis of Assisi, it is said, ‘walked the earth like the pardon of God’ as he embraced all life forms with the love of God. We need to seek God’s pardon for our mistreatment of our co-occupants of planet earth. This place of spiritual calm encourages us to search our consciences.
El Arca touches the hearts, as well as the heads, of those who visit the sanctuary, from parties of school children to tourists like me. I’m sure that Her Majesty, the Queen of Spain, Dońa Sofia, was likewise moved when she visited the rescue and recuperation centre on 28 May 2002.
Notices tell of the background and rescue of many of the animals. One’s heart almost breaks with the horror stories of some of these creatures as well as by the great contrast with the loving home in which they now find themselves. This is not the sentimental wishy-washy love of soaps and fairy tales but a love that calls for action. Here is the hard, economic reality of running such an enterprise; here are people’s lives dedicated to the care of these animals. Great faith is needed that the financial support necessary for El Arca’s life will be forthcoming. Running costs amount to Ł200,000 a year and that there are just six workers for this great undertaking. Money is required to pay for the feeding, watering, fencing and veterinary bills for this enterprise, now in its eighth year. The men and women who run it sacrifice so much to keep it operating as a sanctuary. Charges for visitors are three euros for children, five for adults. No one gets rich on that!
It was eight years ago that El Arca began with a vision for an animal ‘town’ in this Spanish valley, a safe haven for our fellow inhabitants of the planet, a veritable Ark. It is an international foundation in defence of the animal world. It rescues animals and birds from circuses after they have been forced to travel for years in the most appalling conditions. It receives animals freed from laboratories where they have been subjected to testing and genetic engineering, as well as those bred on fur farms to satisfy the desires of some women to dress in animal skins. Some people import exotic animals as pets and then find that, as the animals get older and bigger, they cannot cope with them. Others import exotic animals, reptiles and birds illegally and they are confiscated by the customs authorities. Rather than destroy them, the authorities send them to El Arca. Some of them have come from caring homes where owners have died or been unable to continue to keep them. ‘Some of us can even die from sadness,’ is a comment at the parrots’ cage. Here the love essential for life is assured.
Joy and heightened emotion
It was a joy to go round the sanctuary, though it tore at the heart strings. The whole visit took about two hours. El Arca covers a wide area on the south-facing slopes of Mount Aitana, between the villages of Guadalest and Benimantell, north-west of Benidorm. We saw lions and tigers rescued from horrendous circumstances in circuses. We saw a ‘liger’, the product of genetic engineering. As half lion, half tiger, it is unable to belong to either species, it lives in an animal no-man’s-land created by human meddling.
The huge black bears included one which had been subjected to the mutilation of claw extraction so that it could entertain on the streets. Claw extraction had also been done on some of the tigers to fit them for circus life. There were leopards and servils, saved from becoming fur coats. Panthers and other animals had been saved from being put down when small zoos collapsed. A snow leopard, porcupines and animals of numerous species brought into Spain illegally had been saved from being destroyed by customs officials and sent to the Ark. Very many of these creatures are from endangered species, fast becoming extinct. Wolves and fox-cubs, pumas and panthers, deer and rare breeds of wild pig, as well as prairie dogs and aguti accounted for some of this diverse company of the Spanish ark. Noah would be proud of the human crew who work so tirelessly and caringly for them all! There were also exotic birds their owners could no longer keep, from parrots and toucans to vultures, as well as reptiles and other mammals. There were chimpanzees, one of whom had been used on photo shoots. We watched it enjoying a tickling and fun session with one of the keepers. Its sheer joy was infectious. As it broke into what we could only refer to as laughter, it turned its head to check we were watching and enjoying the experience too.
As we left we witnessed a physiotherapy session with an handsome Alsatian dog which had suffered a horrendous shooting in a hind leg. The patience and calmness of the keeper was wonderful to behold.
Appreciation and the dream
When we finally left this valley sanctuary, hot and tired, our sore feet were matched by sore hearts. We had a greater realisation of just how much these animals had missed of what their Creator intended – the wide open spaces, the living in family groups, the fulfillment of natural instincts.
We had a deeper appreciation of the horror many of these animals had lived through – the noise and artificial lights to which so many had been subjected, the cramped living quarters, the neglect, the loneliness and the pain. One adult tiger, kept since its first years in a cramped cage, even had to learn to run as he became acclimatised to his new living space. We felt so grateful that another Noah had heard the Word of the Lord, received a vision of human responsibility for the animals others had violated and exploited, and done something to realize that dream. It is a dream that others can now share when they come to this beautiful valley on Aitana’s slopes.
The dream is one to which I now feel an even stronger commitment. I want to support more positively the work of organisations like El Arca. Then the condition of these co-inhabitants of our planet may be improved and our responsibility as their guardians may be taken seriously, nationally and internationally.
- El Arca, Valle de Guadalest, Benimantell - Alicante, c.p. 03516
Tel/ fax: (00 34) 965 97 23 59 (Open every day from 10 a.m.)
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