January 30, 2020 / 3:13 PM / a month ago

'The animals own the place': Argentine sanctuary ruled by llamas and cows

GENERAL RODRIGUEZ, Argentina (Reuters) - In the “Animal Paradise” sanctuary, 75 kilometers (50 miles) outside Argentine capital Buenos Aires, it is clear who’s king: the ducks, llamas, pigs, horses and local capybara who wander the pastures and farm yards at leisure.

Volunteer Facundo Palomino hugs a rescued capybara at the animal sanctuary "Animal Paradise," managed by couple Gabriela Bezeric and Armando Scoppa for over a quarter of a century, in General Rodriguez, Argentina January 24, 2020. Picture taken January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Mariana Greif

The center is the labor of love of husband and wife couple Gabriela Bezeric and Armando Scoppa, who have been running the facility for over a quarter of a century, rescuing animals that would otherwise have been killed for meat.

The current number of “residents” is 850.

“I always say that I am going to save all the animals that are at risk of death,” Bezeric told Reuters at the sanctuary, adding she hoped one day to be able to expand, including with a veterinary hospital on the site currently being built.

The couple are strong advocates of animal rights in a country where meat consumption is central to the culture, and important industry and indicator of the economy.

“The Animal Paradise is the product of the work of two visionaries who a long time ago believed in giving a second chance to animals, mostly those destined for consumption,” said volunteer Yamila Buboff who works in the sanctuary.

“So that they can be treated as the sentient beings they are and not just as a plate of food.”

Life is not always easy, especially with a wider economic crisis hitting the South American nation, which has held up some of the couple’s plans for expansion. They are now looking for sponsors and financial backers to help stay afloat.

“The important thing is that our ‘Paradise’ can keep going,” said Bezeric. “Everything I do is for the animals and I want to continue so that this remains for them.”

As he fed “Wolf”, one of the sanctuary’s horses that was recently saved, Scoppa said that the facility was held in the name of a foundation and he sometimes worried about who would take the place over in the future now that the couple are in their 70s.

“There are no heirs here, the animals are the only ones to inherit it,” he said. “The animals own the place.”

Reporting by Horacio Soria and Juan Bustamante; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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