Few people know that near Madrid you can hear the singing of gibbons: just over half an hour from the centre of the capital is the oldest primate sanctuary in Spain.
Rainfer, a sanctuary for primates
We are talking about a center that is located in an unknown location near that city, since many of the animals that reside in this sanctuary are coveted species due to illegal trafficking of species, and sadly many come from a traumatic past as pets, so returning to the same must be avoided at all costs.
Rainfer was founded in 1995, so it has more than 20 years of history and more than a hundred primates in its charge. Your visit is a very ethical option to contemplate these beautiful animals, but above all to learn their stories and promote their protection and rehabilitation.
Calum, one of the gibbons rescued from Rainfer
With almost four hectares, Rainfer forms a unique oasis for animals that you would not expect to see in the center of the peninsula: gibbons, macaques, capuchin monkeys or chimpanzees live in the different areas of the center, where visits are carefully controlled so that the impact is as small as possible.
Founded by Guillermo Bustelo, Rainfer has a great human team of professionals who, together with the volunteers, spend the whole day watching the animals of the center, a task without which these primates could not survive in captivity.
The need to rescue primates
Primate sanctuaries are quite common in Europe: in Spain there are two other centres located near Alicante (Primadomus) and Girona (MONA Foundation). This group of animals has specific characteristics that make their rehabilitation particularly complex.
Primates are highly social beings, with a very long and important period of childhood and socialization. This is vital, as abuse, petting or experimentation can have a tremendous impact during these periods, making the animals carry lifelong scars.
Rafi, the leader of the central macaque group
Moreover, Spain becomes a gateway for the trafficking of exotic mammals, and primates are not spared: the Barbary macaque is taken from its natural habitat in Morocco to be the most trafficked mammal in Europe, a large part of them pass through Spain, as is the case of some of the macaques that live in the Rainfer.
Some of the inhabitants of Rainfer
Other animals, such as chimpanzees, have suffered especially at the hands of circuses and experimentation. Rainfer has three groups of chimpanzees, one of which is the one visitors can see quite closely. A group that has a peculiarity, and that is that it is led by a female, something rare in this species.
Manuela is one of the best known animals in the Rainfer: born in 2002, she is one of the few inhabitants of the Rainfer who has been able to live her childhood in the centre, although this does not make her past any less traumatic, having lived in a mini-zoo in terrible conditions.
The penetrating gaze of Manuela, one of Rainfer’s chimpanzees
Thanks to having lived her childhood among her own people, Manuela has not only been able to develop well physically: she is also an extremely curious and intelligent animal, who usually comes close to observe the visitors with her penetrating gaze. The difference between this life and the one led by some of his companions, rescued from several circuses, is tangible proof of the consequences of exploitation on these animals.
Capuchins are another of Rainfer’s best known inhabitants, as they are quite expressive animals and well known for their use in movies, an activity that has the same disastrous consequences as mascotism. Unfortunately, this has made them popular as pets, so the past of many Rainfer capuchins is quite hard: one example is Willow, who due to living in a small cage has deformities in her back.
Willow, the hard-headed cappuccino, watches the rest of the group in the distance
Another of the centre’s best-known inhabitants is Boris, a Borneo orangutan who was used in show business, living much of his life in solitude. In 2008 he is rescued by Rainfer and he has several chronic diseases that require important expenses for the center. Fortunately, the work of the caretakers and the company of Ximene and Calum, two gibbons, makes Boris’ days much more pleasant.
I have had the pleasure of meeting many of these animals during my time there as a volunteer. From them you learn the importance for us and other primates of social bonds with other individuals, and the need for altruism and collaboration in our societies.
Is it possible to visit Rainfer?
This centre survives thanks to the altruism of its visitors and sympathisers, and the existing aid for this kind of centre in our country is practically non-existent, so the fact that you visit this centre can help the primates it houses a lot.
During most of the weekends of the year, there is the possibility to make a solidarity visit to Rainfer, whose income is directed to maintain the primates of the center. Of course, the location of the centre is informed to the visitors once they have arranged the visit.
Boris shyly observes the visitors, during one of the guided tours
The visits are strictly controlled, with very few people and always in the company of a guide. During approximately two and a half hours in the morning, you will be able to make this kind of visits in which you will know more closely the stories of the primates of the center and the work of Rainfer.
Personally, I have made the visit on multiple occasions, and it is a very entertaining activity for those who can approach this sanctuary. On their website you have all the information you need to make the visit, as well as other options to collaborate, such as the option of volunteering or sponsoring one of the animals that lives in the centre. Who would have thought that you could hear the singing of some gibbons in Madrid?