ANIMAL CRUELTY

The true story behind the dolphin corpse found in Madrid’s biggest park

The police believe that the mammal was the victim of a network of animal traffickers

The dolphin corpse found in Casa de Campo on Tuesday.
The dolphin corpse found in Casa de Campo on Tuesday.Madrid Animal Protection Center

It was around 3.30pm on Tuesday afternoon when a resident of the nearby Latina neighborhood, who prefers to remain anonymous, was taking a walk with his two dogs in Madrid’s Casa de Campo, the biggest park in the capital. But César, his three-year-old Daschund, suddenly ran away from him toward some scrubland. The animal began to bark and nervously scratch at the ground.

The man approached to see what was happening and at that moment found the semi-buried head of what looked like another dog. He pulled at it and was immediately surrounded by a strong smell of rotting flesh. He didn’t know it, but he had found the body of a young dolphin, which was wrapped in chicken wire and had been buried there around a year ago – more than 300 kilometers from the nearest sea.

I thought to start it might be a greyhound due to the teeth it had, and that whoever would abandon an animal like this must be a very bad person

Investigators believe that the animal may have died while being handled by animal traffickers.

The owner of the dog explained this week to EL PAÍS that César was unwilling to leave his discovery. “The first thing I thought was, What is this? I thought it might be a greyhound due to the teeth it had, and that whoever would abandon an animal like this must be a very bad person.”

The dog owner took time to pull the whole body out of the ground. “The smell was very strong,” he said. “It wasn’t like meat or fish. I was completely confused.”

He took some time to get the entire body out, and once he had he still didn’t know what it was. It looked like a crocodile thanks to its long jaw full of teeth. But something wasn’t right – the animal had fins but no legs. Could it be a cetacean? He called the 010 municipal information line. “I don’t know if they believed me,” he said. “They told me they were going to treat the issue as urgent, but no one came along.”

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As time passed he decided to call the Municipal Police. Concerned they might not believe him, he began by saying that he was looking at a “very strange incident.”

Two officers from the environmental unit appeared in just a few minutes. They quickly called the Environmental Protection Unit (UPMA), given how strange the case was, and on the basis there could be “some kind of robbery or illegal trafficking of animals.”

Police sources told EL PAÍS that they have “a number of lines of inquiry open,” among them the “illegal sale of dolphins or of some of their organs.” The investigators have already confirmed that there are no dolphins missing from Spanish zoos. In Madrid, for example, there are just 11 dolphins and they all live in the nearby Zoo Aquarium.

The biology director of the Madrid zoo, Agustín López, explained that they knew straight away that the animal was not from their park, nor from any other, given that it was a different species. “The cadaver found in the Casa de Campo was in a very bad state, and we couldn’t determine his species, but it was different,” he explained. Each specimen arrives at a zoo or aquarium fully identified and containing a microchip.

López said that it is very unlikely that a cetacean could survive in installations that are inadequate for the job. “You need a lot of space, some very specific characteristics of water, and a lot of filtration.” Such conditions would be impossible to reproduce in a normal swimming pool. The investigators have not ruled out that it could be a river animal, given its very long head and nose.

Police sources told EL PAÍS that they have “a number of lines of inquiry open,” among them the “illegal sale of dolphins or of some of their organs

At the Center for Animal Protection, they have so far confirmed that the animal is “young, and is approximately a meter-and-a-half long.” Its advanced decomposition has impeded, for now, determining the sex and species.

Specialists at the National Museum of Natural Sciences are due to inspect the body this week. “We will take DNA samples and also the morphological measurements,” explained a spokesperson. “We will not carry out an autopsy.”

According to CPA sources, the mammal may have been dead for a year, although the chicken wire – in which it was found wrapped – is more recent. “By its appearance we believe that it was bought specifically to move it to the Casa de Campo.”

If the animal is from the sea, it will have traveled more than 350 kilometers to get to the center of the peninsula, although if it was a river animal, the distance would have been much further – the distance separating the capital from the Amazon or the Ganges.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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