Izhan Canas, a volunteer at Fundacion Santuario Gaia, holds open the “duck house” door for a group of resident geese walking out of the house into the sanctuary’s yard. The geese stay inside these huts at night to protect them from predators. Every morning they leave the hut and have breakfast in their ponds. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media
Abril, a rescued pig, stands under shady trees at Fundacion El Hogar Animal Sanctuary. Abril was rescued along with Grus and Lira, her father and mother, after being found wandering on a road by foresters. Though the foresters were not equipped to care for the pigs, and they faced certain death, El Hogar offered the pigs a home. Soon after, young Abril gave birth to four babies: Nube, Marea, Tormenta, and Viento. Born into a sanctuary environment, these babies will never experience fear at the hands of humans. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media
Injured kid goat Salome looks over the shoulder of Fundacion Santuario Gaia Gaia worker Marta Sampaio. Salome was found on a road, lost, dehydrated, plagued with lice, limping, and scared. An X-ray revealed that Salome had a fissure in her tibia. Subsequently, her leg was immobilized, and she received further medication to rid her of parasites and aid in her recovery. To date, her prognosis is good, and Gaia expects her to make a full recovery. Marta feeds Salome three times daily and constantly checks on her well-being. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media

“When I called Salomé’s name, she would come directly to my hand, the one without the camera, asking to be pet,” the photojournalist Ana Palacios remembers. Salomé the kid goat arrived at Gaia Sanctuary in Spain in 2020 after she was found on the road, dehydrated, scared, and lost. She had an injured tibia, but under the care of the team at the sanctuary, she healed. With time, her fear faded, and she learned to trust. 

In recent years, Palacios has traveled to four vegan sanctuaries—Gaia Sanctuary, El Hogar Animal Sanctuary, Scooby, and Eden Sanctuary—as part of her ongoing project Wild Love. In these safe havens nestled in the Spanish countryside, rescued farm animals like Salomé live out their lives in peace and freedom. Many of them have escaped abuse, exploitation, and slaughter.  

“Initially, it was just an assignment,” the photojournalist tells me. “I didn’t know anything about animal abuse and the intensive livestock industry. But when I first experienced living in a sanctuary, my whole perception of the animal world changed dramatically.” 

While at Gaia Sanctuary, she met Patricia, who was born in an intensive pig farm. Her mother had been confined to a gestation crate, a small iron cage that severely restricts movement (turning around is not possible). As a result of the gestation crate and her mother’s inability to move, Patricia’s legs had been crushed. 

The sanctuary created a new space specifically for the young pig, where she could safely move around without injuring herself. On summer days, she can be found bathing in the pool. “A sanctuary is like a beautiful family where everybody works really hard, from dawn ’till dusk,” the photojournalist tells me. 

On the night of her first visit to El Hogar Animal Sanctuary, Palacios was greeted by Elena Tova, the sanctuary’s founder and director. Upon entering the room where she would spend the next fifteen days, she spotted six cats on the bed. One of them slept cuddled up right next to her face. 

Right from the start, the photojournalist witnessed firsthand just how hard the sanctuary staff and volunteers work while caring for the animals. “After long hours of work, walking long distances inside the sanctuary, and climbing up and down hills, I would go to bed at night totally exhausted,” she reflects. “I could well have shared the bed with a tiger, and that would have been fine with me!”

While at El Hogar Animal Sanctuary, Palacios also met River, a pig without teeth (likely the result of malnourishment or abuse), and Cristina Morales, a sanctuary worker with whom he’d developed a close bond. “They could be together for hours,” the photographer says. “She would prepare fresh juices for him every day and give the juices to him slowly to prevent choking. She did it with the deepest love and total devotion.” 

This kind of love, which Palacios describes as “wild, unconditional, fearless, and energizing” inspired the title of her project. “Most of the time, it is a really demanding job to take care of animals,” she explains. “They don’t have free time, and they can be woken up in the middle of the night often for different reasons: an animal getting sick, a birth, or an attack from outside predators. But that love is so powerful. It gives them all the strength they need to move ahead.” 

At Gaia Sanctuary, Palacios witnessed the rescue of five-day-old Armonía. “The sanctuary got the call from a nearby equestrian sports club, explaining there was this little lamb who just got her leg crushed,” she recalls. “They were going to sacrifice her if the sanctuary crew did not pick her up. 

“So I went with them in the van to rescue her. We also took her mother, Tecla, so they would remain together. We went to the vet for X-rays, and then back to the sanctuary where she got her leg immobilized by Coque Fernandez de Abella, the co-founder of Gaia and a vet. I would visit her every day, and I became very fond of her. She is happily living at the sanctuary today.” 

The road to rescue can look different depending on the animal. Sometimes, farmers will reach out directly to a sanctuary when the animal is no longer “of use” to them. Other times, the police might contact a sanctuary if a farmer has died or there’s been an accident. Animals might also be found on the side of the road, having fallen from transport trucks. While at the sanctuaries, Palacios learned to see every animal as an individual. 

“Most of the animals were super comfortable with me being there,” she says. “They are surrounded by humans who take good care of them there all the time, so I was just one of them. I was way more scared of them than they were of me. Some of them, especially pigs, donkeys, and some goats, would come to me to be petted, but I was not ready for that at the beginning. Then as the days passed, I was really happy when they would come to me. I had long conversations with some of them, I must say.”

Whenever she’d leave to say goodbye to Salomé for the day, she was touched to hear the baby goat bleating after her. “She tried to get my attention and get me to come back,” the photojournalist tells me. “I felt the same bond that I have with my dog. I haven’t eaten meat since then.” 

Fundacion Santuario Gaia worker Mon Lopez Manzanares feeds injured kid goat Salome, who wears a bandage on her hind leg. Some of the goats and sheep need special care, so they are temporarily separated from each other to lessen the risk of further injury and to facilitate their recovery. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media
Patricia, a pig rescued as a baby from an intensive pig farm, enjoys a soak in her water pool at Fundacion Santuario Gaia. Her mother crushed Patricia inside a farrowing crate, and she cannot use her hind legs. After many veterinary treatments, she still cannot use them, and now has her own special area of polished asphalt that allows her to move around without harming herself. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media
Fundacion Santuario Gaia worker Marta Sampaio holds Armonia, a five-day-old lamb with a broken tibia, while founder and veterinarian Coque Fernandez Abella injects her with medicine. Armonia was rescued from certain death, along with her mother, when her previous owners could not care for them after Armonia’s injury. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media
Sanctuary worker Cristina Morales smiles as she gives rescued resident pig River a drink of juice from a pitcher at Fundacion El Hogar Animal Sanctuary. Cristina gives him this twice daily, along with his ration of fruits and vegetables. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media
Pedro is a 1,500-kilogram six-year-old rescued bull living at Fundacion Santuario Gaia. When he first came to live there, he was small and lived with some of the sheep for several years. He became very fond of Olga, a sheep rescued at the same time as him, and they always stayed together. As more cows came to live at Gaia, the cows and sheep had to be separated. Since then, Pedro can stare at the sheep for hours and stops by the sheep’s stable every morning to visit them while they eat breakfast. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media
Itak looks through the trees on the Fundacion Santuario Gaia‘s property. Itak is a horse that had lived his entire life with his mother on the property before the sanctuary moved there. Gaia Sanctuary adopted them, and they are now permanent residents. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media
Ariana Taibo, a sanctuary volunteer, holds and kisses a rescued hen at Fundacion El Hogar Animal Sanctuary. Ariana is responsible for feeding the hens, supervising egg laying, and monitoring their well-being. According to El Hogar founder Elena Tova, often, when hens are removed from a farm for slaughter, injured, deformed, or underweight hens are left in the sheds without food, water, or heat to die. When the sheds are cleaned, the remaining chickens, whether alive or dead, will be scooped up with the rest of the waste before the shed is repopulated with new chickens, and the cycle starts anew. El Hogar has rescued numerous chickens from such situations. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media
A rescued goat at Fundacion Santuario Gaia peeks with curiosity into the camera. As of October 2022, the sanctuary has 169 sheep and goats and 534 farm animals in total. All were rescued after abandonment or police seizure. Each animal has a name and a sponsor who pays for their food and veterinary expenses. Such sanctuaries do not receive any public funds and are financed exclusively through private donations. © Ana Palacios / We Animals Media

Some of Ana Palacios’s work on behalf of animals is represented by We Animals Media, a leading group of animal photojournalists and filmmakers documenting exploitation around the world. Support their work here

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