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Wolf Encounters - August 1999

Back in the summer of 1999, I found myself on a tour of Barcelona, Spain, with the county youth orchestra I belonged to at the time.  Basically, a "playing and drinking" holiday for most of the members.  Being strictly teetotal, I decided to use for sight-seeing time which everyone else preferred to spend either drunk or in a hangover.

So, enticed by two guys in rather bad fursuits at the gates, I made my way to the National Zoo of Catalonia, housed in the corner of the biggest park in Barcelona.  This zoo is notorious for the many and continuing attempts against it for it to be shut down and relocated to much bigger grounds, since at present, the enclosures are claimed to be too small and cramped for the wildlife they hold.

And this certainly seemed to be true as I wandered around - what greeted me were not lively, happy and healthy animals presented in an environment as close to their naturally occurring habitats as possible, but instead sad, bored and deprived animals packed into spaces far too small for them that were bland and bare.  As an animal lover, let alone a Werewolf, I felt remorse at seeing these animals caged in such an appalling way, and can only hope that the zoo is relocated sooner rather than later.

On walking around, however, a sign caught my attention.  It read "Lobos" and had a large arrow pointing towards the left.  Immediately the entrance fee seemed worth it, as I walked hastily towards the wolfs' enclosure to see a family of three - mother, father and pup - stretched out in the heat of the Catalan sun on the bank that had been constructed for them in what was a relatively small space given the size of territory wolves would normally occupy in the wild.

As the wolves were inactive, I decided to take a wander round the rest of the zoo for a bit, until the heat was somewhat less foreboding.  Most of the animals were taking the same approach as the wolves - stretch out in the shade and avoid anyone with a camera.

Sadly, the latter proved too annoying for some of the tourists, and at one point, I noticed a kid, quite obviously fed up with the lack of motion displayed by the two leopards, open a bottle of mineral water and empty it over the back of one of the creatures in an attempt to see the reaction.  One thoroughly annoyed leopard just went back to sleep...

As the afternoon went on, so the temperature dropped from the soaring noon heat and visitors started to be in somewhat fewer numbers than they had been in earlier in the day.  My conscience (and obsession) told me to go back to the wolves, so this is what I did, to find them up and active, and the subject of people's attention as they walked passed with their cameras.

There must be something compelling to young foreign children about wolves: every kid I watched walk past their enclosure felt an obligatory urge to howl in their direction, where as no one showed the same kind of interest in any of the other animals.  And the ignorance some of the adults was just as shocking; one woman was heard to mutter (in perfect English) as she walked past, "What the hell have they got Alsatians in zoo for?!"

Oblivious to what was going on outside their little confined space, the wolves padded around.  Sometimes they would get frisky, and the little cub would play games with his two parents; games such as "tug 'o war" and "cover dad in water" seemed to be among his most popular choices.  At other times, all three just wanted to completely crash out on their little patch of grass watching the public mingle past from their raised vantage point.

However, what I noticed more than anything was the emotional pull of the animal to me.  They became more than three faces behind bars and I almost sensed in the wolves that I was more than just another member of the public walking by and mocking at them.  Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, or, more likely, it's wishful thinking, but I seemed to sense some form of bond created between us four wolves - them and myself.

The male would, every so often, come down from where the other two were, right up to me at the fence, as in the picture above, where he would happily stay for a bit, letting his picture be taken, before returning.  He was not doing this with any of the other people standing around the enclosure as far as I could see.  The female and cub did not want to be endearing to me, but this was not too much of a disappointment - I was getting more attention from the male than I could have expected, and that in itself made the trip more than worthwhile.

As the afternoon turned to evening, so the wolves became more and more inactive - they had had their exertion for the day, and now wanted to crash out for a bit.  With the still milling public, this was obviously difficult, and every now and again, they did get up, wander around, have a splash in the pool and, urged on by the cub unable to sleep like his parents, play a little, again seeming to come in my direction more than any other.  The picture on the right shows mother and cub fighting over an empty bottle of mineral water, kindly provided by yet another ignorant tourist.

I either stayed with the wolves up until the zoo was about to shut, or until I was due back at our hostel in time for an evening meal, I can't remember now.  However, I am certain that I did not want to leave - I had formed a decidedly strong attraction to the animal even if they had not shown similar affection in return.  It was with sadness that I did have to leave, though, safe in the knowledge that this was going to be the best day I had in all 10 days of the tour.  The experience is definitely something I want to repeat, and I'm sure at some point in the future I will get to do just that.

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