When visiting Madrid in Spain there are certain really surprising elements that can be experienced along the way, including the fact that there is a turtle sanctuary hidden in the heart of the city. This literally exists in the Atocha Railway Station, the main junction for train travel throughout the city and also the rest of Spain, located right in the center of this bustling, metropolitan city.
It is here in the main concourse that a beautiful and lush tropical garden flourishes and grows – a welcome and green place for travelers to catch their collective breath when on the move. In this tropical garden is the most amazing sanctuary, where around 300 refugee turtles live in their very own water feature, lined with golden sand. It would also seem they are thriving in this rather unusual environment and, in fact, not only thriving, but actively breeding, as they lay and hatch their eggs in the sand with no natural predators around to threaten their existence.
It seems that originally there were only one or two turtles living there, but as time went by more were added. Some arrived because children had lost interest in their pets, apparently others were donated because people were not prepared to pay an extra 40 percent on their fare to take their turtle with them on the train and yet more were born on the spot.
Whatever the reason for being there, Renfe, the national train company in Spain, has even employed a turtle loving person to care for these unusual refugees in their sanctuary, right in the heart of Madrid.
According to El Pais, Aurora Peña ensures that the animals have the correct food to eat, that their indoor wetland environment is kept clean and healthy, and she even does a head count on occasion, checking each and every turtle and ensuring all is well with each one.
Peña explained to the Spanish media that the sandy area had been set aside for breeding purposes. She added that normally these turtles would live in a tropical ocean, heading on occasion to a remote and protected beach in which to first lay their eggs, and then to incubate them in safety. However, she said that their little beach in the heart of the tropical garden was as close as these little guys can get in the Spanish capital, and it does seem to be working.
The population has apparently remained mostly stable over the years, with those who pass away quickly replaced by someone’s former pet or a new batch of babies. Judging from the video below, the turtles are quite happy with their little tropical lot in life and for visiting humans, this is the perfect distraction while waiting for the next train. In fact, many people apparently catch a later train simply to ensure they can visit this amazing little sanctuary before heading on their way down the rails.
Incidentally the tropical gardens are worth the visit on their own. They are populated with more than 7,000 plants of around 260 different tropical species, all planted in neat and well cared for garden beds. With some plants, like the palm trees, stretching almost to the domed ceiling, along with the amazing turtle sanctuary, this railway station is almost like a different world in the heart of Madrid, the busy capital of Spain. The station has even been recommended as a major tourist attraction on Tripadvisor with some reviewers saying they visited just to see the turtles.
By Anne Sewell