BY HARRO STREHLOW
Tenerife is well known for its fascinating wildlife, with many endemic – at least to the Canary Islands – plants and some endemic species and subspecies of toad, reptile and bird which were mostly described in the 19th century by Philip Barker Webb, Sabin Berthelot and the German naturalist Carl Bolle (Salinger and Strehlow, 1992/1993). Travelling around Tenerife gives visitors wonderful and interesting impressions of these flora and wildlife.
But Tenerife, the ‘island of eternal spring’, is also a place where tourists congregate in high numbers, especially at the southern and northern ends of the island. And, as often happens in such places, many attractions have been established for the behavioural enrichment of the tourists, among them some zoological collections.
We visited two of the animal collections on Tenerife 12 years ago. When we came there again in 2008 and 2009, both still existed, and we were able to visit two others as well, one of them a zoo which closed a few days later in 2008. Two other collections we could not visit because of lack of time.
Loro Parque is well known for its large collection of parrots, which includes some of the rarest species in the world. It hosts the International Parrot Congress and gives great financial support to the Loro Parque Foundation, which is engaged in breeding parrots and especially in the protection of wild parrots and their habitats. All the park’s parrots are owned by the Foundation, which was founded by Wolfgang Kissling in 1994, and the most important breeding is done on the grounds of the foundation some kilometres away from the Loro Parque area (Bueno, 1999). Highlights of recent years are the breeding successes with Spix’s macaw (Anon., 2006; Reinschmidt, 2004; Reinschmidt and Waugh, 2008), Lear’s macaw (Waugh and Reinschmidt, 2007; Reinschmidt, 2007; Reinschmidt, 2008) and blue-throated macaw, which are bred in large numbers at the park. Fortunately, Mr Reinschmidt gives regular reports on the development of the collection and the breeding of rare parrots in IZN and other journals.
Loro Parque is a creation of Wolfgang Kissling and opened in December 1972. At that time it had a small area of 13,000 m2 and exhibited only parrots. In the first years the number of visitors was as high as 250,000 to 300,000. But Wolfgang Kissling understood that this number of visitors would drop if the park did not get other exhibits which could attract more visitors and make them want to come again. As he said: ‘We saw at this time that at the end of a visit people were bored and said, ‘‘Just birds again, that’s too much’’.’ So he decided to show some selected species of mammals, and later on also some fishes and marine life. Though they all belong to the Foundation, parrots are the core of the park’s collection and are on view in unbelievable numbers of species and subspecies. In the meantime the park’s area has grown to more than 12 hectares.
So, what does the ordinary visitor see at Loro Parque? In front is a very large parking area for tourist buses and private cars, as well as a station for the tourist trains which give free rides to the park from nearby tourist areas. When Loro Parque opens there are normally a large number of visitors waiting at the entrance. The prices are high (#31.50 for an adult), but lower (#19) for residents of Tenerife. Anyone who wants to visit a second time can buy a ticket for less than half-price. Inside, visitors come first to a ‘Thai village’, the work of Thai architects, with a large pool for koi carp, a small museum, a souvenir shop and a snack bar. (Visitors also pass through this area on their way to the exit at the end of the tour.) After the Thai village is a place where a photographer takes pictures of visitors with one or two parrots on their shoulders; this kind of souvenir is very common in Spain and part of the business in all the southern Spanish zoos I have visited. Next are some aviaries with parrots such as keas, and then visitors come to the first non-parrot highlight of the collection – two large grassy enclosures with rocks and bushes, which are the home of gorillas. Loro Parque was the first zoo in Europe to house a bachelor group of western lowland gorillas, which was important for the EEP, as the number of males was (and still is) too high. The construction and management of these gorilla enclosures are described in Neubauer and Heckner-Bisping (1999) and Neuwald and Heckner-Bisping (2000). Most visitors are not aware of the importance and scientific interest of these exhibits, but simply fascinated to see these animals roaming in their enclosures.
The next highlight is Planet Penguin, believed to incorporate the largest enclosure in the world for sub-antarctic penguins (Waugh and Reinschmidt, 2007). It is indeed a marvellous experience to see these big colonies of different penguin species in such a large space. The Humboldt penguins have a separate enclosure as they live further north than the sub-antarctic species. In the main enclosure live large groups of king, rockhopper, gentoo and chinstrap penguins. In 1998 a large number of wild king penguin eggs were collected, hatched and the chicks hand-reared at Loro Parque (Sweeney, 1999). These birds are now adults and the first breeding results were successful. The gentoos are also breeding regularly. Alongside the two penguin enclosures is a smaller one for their northern counterparts, with common and pigeon guillemots (Uria aalge and Cepphus columba) and tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata), which also have some breeding success but are less noticed by the visitors.
Loro Parque offers shows – all of them a ‘must’ for visitors and all interesting – with sea lions, dolphins, orcas and parrots. Each of the shows lasts about 30 minutes, so what with leaving one show area and hurrying to the next one to get a seat, visitors are occupied for up to four hours in all. If they go to the restaurant for a meal or a drink, or walk around in the park to see the parrots, this will need even more time. The shows are very good: the most impressive is the one with the orcas (Orcinus orca), a huge male and some females, in their Orca Ocean exhibit. The show is fascinating and people like it when the animals splash water onto the sitting spectators with their tail fins; but I thought the most impressive part was a short movie of the first orca born in captivity, showing the birth and the behaviour of the female afterwards. The other shows are similar to those elsewhere, but of a very high quality.
There are other attractions at Loro Parque too, such as the chimpanzees (bought or confiscated from beach photographers), the tigers (subspecific hybrids or of uncertain descent, and hence not included in an EEP or studbook), an aquarium with a shark tunnel, and the ‘Gambian market’. But everywhere there are aviaries with parrots – though most of the public have only a glimpse of these birds, as the time between the shows is short and the other attractions claim their attention.
Parrot-lovers often find it difficult to get an undisturbed view of the birds as the paths are so overcrowded. Many of the aviaries are old-fashioned and do not look attractive; but Loro Parque has begun to change the exhibiting of the birds, with better-designed and larger aviaries which get more attention from the public. And it really is a breathtaking spectacle to see, for example, more than 30 blue-throated macaws living in one huge aviary. Even visitors who do not read the educational charts about the rarity of these endangered parrots are fascinated by the constant movement and the flying birds.
Loro Parque, then, has managed to combine an excellent zoological collection with giving support to conservation both in and ex situ. Maybe only a small proportion of the visitors will learn about the threats to many species of parrot or about the diversity of this family, but they will all have a great day out and support the conservation of parrots with their entrance fee.
Parque Las Aguilas Jungle Park
In the southern part of Tenerife the climate is warmer and drier than in the north, where Loro Parque is situated. The climate and the long beaches concentrate large numbers of tourists in the south. As a result there are a lot of tourist attractions here, including some zoological collections. One of these is Parque Las Aguilas Jungle Park, which is owned by Aspro, a company with many leisure parks from Finland to Spain, some of which are animal collections. The park was founded in 1994 and has developed into a green oasis in the dry south of Tenerife. As with Loro Parque, free rides to Jungle Park are offered from the tourist centres around Los Christianos.
The entrance is somewhat trashy, with some figures in Egyptian style and also giant eagles. The price is high at #24 for an adult (#18 for residents). Beyond the entrance is the enclosure for tigers. Jungle Park keeps both white and normal-coloured tigers (not included in the studbook as they are of unknown origin or hybrids). As both groups share the same outside enclosure, each has only half a day out, spending the rest of their time inside a house which is not open to the public. Passing the photographer with his parrots, visitors come into the richly-planted area which makes up the rest of Jungle Park. As ‘typical inhabitants’ of a jungle, Humboldt penguins are shown in an enclosure with underwater viewing windows and a rocky coast! Other species not appropriate for a jungle are raccoons, ostriches, red pandas, snowy owls, meerkats and – among the plants – an exhibition of cacti. Maybe these comments are a little purist, but they do highlight the problem zoos have when they give themselves a theme and at the same time want to attract many visitors by displaying the most popular animals.
There are, though, enough remarkable species at Jungle Park to make a visit worthwhile. Large enclosures house three species of crocodile, two species of capuchin, mandrills, chimpanzees (as at Loro Parque, animals confiscated from beach photographers), orang-utans (presumably the Bornean species or hybrids), three species of gibbon (the rarest, as I remember well, being Müller’s gibbons), and L’Hoest’s monkeys. In contrast to most of the enclosures, which are large and appropriate for the species kept in them, the cage of the L’Hoest’s monkeys is situated in a shadowy corner; it is small and has a very small house, and only a few climbing structures are given to this beautiful species. When we visited Jungle Park we could see only one male, and I believe that is all they had. In Germany, Berlin Zoo was the first to breed this species, but in 2009 only two males are left in Germany, at Naturtierpark Ströhen.
There are two shows which are most interesting for visitors – the Show Exóticas and the Show Rapaces. In the first some species of parrots show stunts similar to those of Loro Parque’s parrot show. It seems that all the parrots in the shows of southern Spain have the same trainer and perform similar tricks. Besides the parrots, which are magnificent when they fly around, there are other birds such as a silvery-cheeked hornbill (Ceratogymna brevis), which also took a flight. After this a keeper held it on his arm and went among the visitors, who had some pieces of fruit which the bird picked from their hands. Another bird was a kookaburra (Dacelo gigas), who ‘hunted’ a rubber snake and made the typical killing movements. A look behind the scenes – a part of the aviaries is in the public area – shows that most birds used in the Show Exóticas are kept in aviaries when they are not on stage.
Show Rapaces is mainly a display of birds of prey, in which different species of eagles, falcons and vultures perform their flights and hunting behaviour. It is really fascinating to see four bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flying high over the island. At the end of the show the birds should come down, but sometimes one or other of the eagles prefers to stay longer in the sky. To see a bald eagle coming down at a fantastic speed is an unforgettable sight, only impaired by an irritatingly dramatic musical accompaniment. Other species take part besides the birds of prey. White storks, marabous (Leptoptilos crumeniferus – more impressive in flight) and ibises are species which give diversity to the show. The storks and ibises live in aviaries, but most of the birds of prey are tethered in the manner used in falconry. I fully agree with Tim Brown (2009, p. 146) that ‘this method of display differs little from the parrot stands of a hundred years or more ago.’ There are many more birds of prey tethered than are needed for the show, which means that most of the birds are not given the freedom to fly once or twice a day. Numerous species are shown, the most interesting being a yellow-headed vulture (Cathartes burrovianus or C. melambrotus). (On the signboard it is called C. melambrotus, but the two species are very difficult to distinguish, so I do not know if this is right. Some years ago some yellow-headed vultures were imported to Europe: the few I know are of the lesser species C. burrovianus, which has bred at Tierpark Berlin, but it could be possible that some specimens of the larger species have been imported too.)
Jungle Park is worth a visit, despite the points I have criticized. A more scientific orientation and a change from presenting what visitors are presumed to want to a more conservation-directed collection would give more satisfaction to the visit.
Monkey Zoo Park
The former Tenerife Zoo is now named Monkey Zoo Park, and the new name describes the collection better than the previous one. Llano Azul is situated near Los Christianos, just a long walk up the hill. Before arriving, the visitor passes the Autopista del Sur and a small tunnel. The best way is to go by taxi, and after the visit to walk down the hill to the beach. Monkey Zoo Park is a small collection with only between 50 and 60 species on 1.5 hectares. They have only a few visitors, so money for major changes is lacking. But in the twelve years between my first and second visits some new enclosures were built and some changes took place. The collection of primates is still impressive, with 21 species. The old male chimpanzee with nearly white hair who lived there in a group has died in the meantime, but a brown-haired female is still living there. Some species have left the collection, such as the Roloway’s monkeys – their former enclosure now houses a solitary male drill. Four species of lemur include the now rare mongoose lemur (Eulemur mongoz). The five species of guenons are interesting to compare and an unusual sight in the modern zoo world. Other interesting species are entellus langurs in two groups, stump-tailed macaques (Macaca arctoides) and agile mangabeys (Cercocebus galeritus) – the only species of mangabey kept there now. The female of the pair has only three limbs: one of her arms has been amputated, but despite this handicap she has lived there for more than 13 years.
Entering the zoo, the visitor passes a bridge over a small river with Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer). The photographer with his parrots is waiting at the end of the bridge. Then follow some walk-through enclosures with lemurs, marmosets or tamarins. Together with them live green iguanas – not a rare species in captivity, but in these large enclosures and with the sun of Spain a splendid sight. Also in these aviaries are African spurred tortoises. Behind the walk-through aviaries are the enclosures for the other monkeys, pumas and some birds. Most interesting is the go-away bird (Corythaixoides concolor), a species of the turaco family which is seldom exhibited. In the breeding area, now open to the public, in high and mostly richly-planted aviaries, besides some monkeys, live a pair of vasa parrots and breeding groups of three species of toucan and two species of cockatoo.
Monkey Zoo Park is worth a visit and hopes in future to get more visitors and support to keep its famous animals and to withstand the competition of the financially-strong collections on Tenerife. The park is a place visitors with children like. The close contact with animals in the walk-through aviaries and the small but interesting collection make a fine half-day out for families. Food is available at the entrance and the visitors are allowed to feed most animals. There is no restaurant, only coffee and ice cream are available at the entrance. As we were sitting there drinking a cup of coffee in 2008, the park’s biggest surprise appeared – two hummingbirds moving quickly among the flowers of a tree. The woman at the entrance knew about these birds but did not know where they came from. In 2009 we could not find them again.
This mystery was soon solved. In the immediate neighbourhood of Monkey Zoo Park there had been another animal collection, Parque Exoticos. Twelve years ago it did not exist, and it closed down in 2008 a few days after our visit to Monkey Zoo Park. It must have been an interesting place. Nearly half of the area was a display of cacti, which were also on sale to visitors. A valley between two hills was enclosed by a large net. It seems that it housed many interesting bird species such as toucans and hummingbirds. But the heavy storms in the winter of 2008 destroyed the netting. Some of the birds escaped, among them the hummingbirds we had seen at Monkey Zoo Park. Most of the other birds have been caught and given away. Another interesting feature was a small house with a rocky indoor enclosure for the lizards of Tenerife. As these animals are rarely exhibited outside Spain, it must have been a fascinating exhibit. But here too all the animals had left. In 2009 the installations of Parque Exoticos still existed, but the facility was closed.
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