Loro Parque – A birds eye view
Hidden in the Canary Islands, the Loro Park Foundation has created a paradise for parrots, and for parrot lovers.
In 1972, Wolfgang Kiessling opened Loro Parque, a parrot park of only 1.3 hectares (3.1 acres), in the hamlet of Puerto de la Cruz on the north coast of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands of Spain.
The location of Loro Parque was well chosen in space and in time because, as tourism has thrived on Tenerife during the past three decades, so has Loro Parque been able to expand to an area of 13.5 ha (33 acres) and develop into not just the world’s premier parrot park, but also a world class zoological park in all its attributes. Furthermore, the combination of sub-tropical latitude (28oN) and ameliorating effect of a cold current in the surrounding Atlantic Ocean, creates near-perfect climatic conditions for maintaining and breeding parrots. When the Spanish first reached the islands, they dubbed them the “fortunate islands”, especially because of the wonderful climate. This feature, together with the first rate installations established by Loro Parque and the Loro Parque Fundación, have created a paradise for parrots, and for parrot lovers.
The Park Today
Nowadays, as many as 1.5 million visitors a year come to Loro Parque to see its parrots and other attractions. Passing through the elegant Thai architecture of the entrance, visitors enter a botanical and zoological paradise. Luxuriant vegetation abounds, cocooning the visitor for the several hours of his or her visit and creating multiple microclimates for the benefit of the animals. For those who want to see parrots, there is no chance that they will miss them. Some 800 parrots are exhibited in the park, representing as large a diversity of forms as can be found on exhibition anywhere in the world. In Loro Parque they form the fabric of the park, being spread throughout almost the entire area and capturing the attention of the visitors as only parrots know how in addition to the other animal attractions. The philosophy behind the exhibition of such a variety of parrots has remained constant throughout the life of Loro Parque.It is that people, by being amazed at their myriad colours, their endearing antics and their great variety, cannot only feel that they have had a great day out at the park, but also that they can better know and respect these charismatic birds. Willingness to support conservation efforts follows on from knowledge and respect, and this has been an ever-increasing outcome, which is the central role of the Loro Parque Fundación. But more on that later.
Their main focuses are: Parrot Park, Breeding, Continued Education and Conservation.
Let us get the full flavour of Loro Parque by looking at what other attractions dwell amidst the greenery. The first encounter is likely to be with the park ́s bachelor group of gorillas, five huge silver-backs living remarkably harmoniously. These animals form part of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for the species and, when there is a need for a new male to assume the leadership of a group of females and youngsters in another participating zoo, Loro Parque is on stand-by to supply the lucky male. Not far away is a close relative, the chimpanzee family, originally formed from some animals which were confiscated by the relevant government authorities in Tenerife after having been used for beach photography with tourists. With the correct care at Loro Parque, these animals are completely integrated into a well-balanced group, where breeding has taken place. The tigers are another attraction where Loro Parque showed its social responsibility by accepting into its superior care animals which had been confiscated from lamentable conditions. The other species of large cat to be found in the park is the jaguar, with both normal pelage and in the black phase.
One of the newest complexes is the penguinarium, the largest to be found anywhere and a hi-tech climate-controlled exhibition which duplicates to a high degree the natural environment of these birds. In the polar exhibit co-exist three species, the King, Gentoo and Rock-hopper Penguins which the visitors can see on their snow-covered rocks, or under the water swimming at amazing speed. Just opposite is a group of Atlantic Puffins, northern counterparts of the penguins, and in the most recent section is a colony of threatened Humboldt Penguins, another EEP species, which enjoy the higher temperatures associated with their native coastline of the Atacama Desert.
Another “must-see” is the aquarium, with its shark tunnel and a stunning variety of salt and freshwater exhibits from the tropics to temperate zones. Other aquatic exhibits of note are those of the American Alligators and of the thousands of Koi Carp in a lily-covered lake by the park entrance, which they share with the equally showy Lesser Flamingos. The larger Chilean Flamingos, Crowned and Demoiselle Cranes adorn grassy spaces in other parts of the park, and the visitor will come across oddities such as Rhinoceros Iguanas from the Cayman Islands and Giant Galapagos Tortoises.
However, in the popularity stakes, what surely must be mentioned are the shows, with Bottlenose Dolphins, Californian Sea lions and parrots. The dolphins and the sea-lions each have their own open-air stadium, where shows are presented several times a day. The visitors flock to these presentations to see the spectacular demonstrations of the natural skills and intelligence, which these animals possess. Each stadium has its behind-the-scenes management pools, and the animals never need to do a show if they don’t want to. On the contrary, sometimes it is difficult to stop them from wanting to join in! As its name implies, the Loro Show is where the parrots perform and demonstrate that they are the “primates of the bird world”! As with the dolphins and sea lions, this carefully selected group of parrots has its own team of dedicated trainers who develop a unique bond with the animals. The Loro Show takes place inside a very large building of Moorish style, dubbed the “Parrot Palace”, where the flying macaws wow the visitors with their colours and grace. The other place which wows the visitors is the Baby Station, where people can watch experienced handlers hand feeding parrots of all ages from day one. The prevailing philosophy is to leave the parent parrots to rear their own young but, in such a large collection, inevitably things will sometimes go wrong and we have to intervene to hand raise the young birds. This we do with a lot of TLC, and people love to see how we do it.
The parrots of the Loro Show and all other parrots on exhibition in the park are owned by the Loro Parque Fundación (LPF). When this was created in 1994, Loro Parque donated its entire parrot collection to the LPF, which now loans back a proportion for public exhibition. At the same time, Loro Parque donated a 3 ha (7.2 acres) former banana plantation, at 200 m (660 feet) elevation and a few kilometres south of Loro Parque, for the creation of the LPF breeding centre, and also paid for the entire construction of what is now one of the world’s parrot wonders. This centre is not open to the general public, but can be visited by members of the LPF.
The parrot collection of the LPF currently stands at about 3,500 birds of 349 species and subspecies, and the breeding centre contains more than 1,000 aviaries which are equally divided between two units which are different in character.
One is covered with a translucent light blue mesh, creating conditions more suitable for parrots from more open natural habitats, and the other is covered with dense black mesh for the species normally found in closed forests. Each mesh also has an important function to exclude wild birds, which might transport diseases. Furthermore, any parrot, which might escape from its aviary, is contained within the mesh and can be re-captured. Over the past years, the vegetation in the breeding centre has matured and now creates almost a sense of natural habitat surrounding the aviaries. Many of the trees and other plants in the centre bear edible fruits, such as papayas, oranges and guavas, which can be included in the diets of the parrots.
The Research Facilities
The breeding centre forms a very important part of the overall activities of the LPF, which was created with the following mission:
“to conserve parrots and their habitats, through education, applied research, responsible breeding programs, and community based conservation activities that use parrots as ambassadors for nature”.
The responsible breeding programmes contribute to conservation in several ways. Firstly, because the LPF usually maintains several pairs of each taxonomic form, the parrot collection is a substantial genetic reserve or “bank” for the future. Secondly, the collection contains some species of highly threatened status in the wild, and these species are maintained and bred in cooperative programmes to maintain viable “safety-net” populations, which might be suitable for future reintroduction. These programmes can be directly with governments, as is the case with Brazil and the guacamaya spixii-pareja Spix’s Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii, a species now extinct in the wild and only possible to recover by captive breeding and release. A difficult species to breed, this year the LPF has successfully reared a youngster. The programmes can also be with the regional zoo community, in our case with the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, and the LPF participates in 29 European Endangered Species Programmes (EEPs), and European and International Studbooks. The LPF is the international studbook keeper and EEP coordinator for the Blue-Throated macaw Ara glaucogularis, a species with possibly no more than 50 wild birds left in its native Bolivia, and EEP coordinator for the Red-Browed Amazon Amazona rhodocorytha. It is also the studbook keeper for the Red and Blue Lory Eos histrio, the Mount Apo Lorikeet Trichoglossus johnstoniae and the Red- spectacled Amazon A. pretrei.
Thirdly, the LPF sells the young bred each year of commoner species, as many as 1,300 in 2003, with two conservation outcomes. The first is that the LPF supplies captive bred birds to the market, thus under-cutting and diminishing the trade in wild-caught parrots. The other is that it dedicates 100% of the income to its conservation projects, which are spread around the globe. In fact, because all of the LPF administration costs are covered by its principal supporter, Loro Parque, any other income from any source can be directed in its entirety to the conservation and welfare projects. Unsurprisingly, donors appreciate this fact, as well as knowing that the LPF is a registered non-profit organisation. Referring again to the LPF mission, the parrot collection forms an unrivalled research resource, and there is an ongoing programme of investigation in various fields, in collaboration with universities from many countries, and giving the opportunity for students to gain parrot research and management experience. To mention just some subjects, there is strong emphasis on diets and nutrition research, the objective being to constantly improve the nutritional plane, welfare and breeding of parrots not just in the LPF collection, but for all captive parrots. There are studies investigating the causes of feather-plucking and examining growth rates in parent-reared and hand-reared young. Disease and health investigations include Proventricular Dilatation Disease, Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease and Polyoma virus.
The other use of the collection is for education, and the LPF runs the entire Loro Parque education service, creating all the materials and organising the school groups which visit the park in their many thousands each year. Furthermore, to raise awareness and disseminate information, the LPF runs specialist parrot workshops (in various languages), and every four years organizes and hosts in Tenerife the International Parrot Convention, the next one of which will be 27th to 30th September 2006.
This account cannot be complete without mentioning what the LPF does for the conservation of parrots in the wild. Since its inception, the LPF has had a portfolio of projects to conserve threatened species of parrots and their wild habitats, through working with governments, NGOs and local communities, to implement protection and restoration measures, research programmes, and awareness and education initiatives.
To date the LPF has, with almost 3 million Euros, financed and implemented 37 projects covering 17 parrot-rich countries and benefiting 58 parrot species. Currently it has 15 active field projects, which it finances with an average of 400,000 Euros per year.
Perhaps the best-known, but still most challenging of these is for the recovery of the Spix’s Macaw. Although recovery now must entirely be from captive birds, during the 10 years until it finally disappeared in December 2000, the LPF supported fieldwork on the last wild male and his mate, a female Illiger’s Macaw Propyrrhura maracana. This produced a great deal of biological information which can be applied to the controlled release of captive birds in the future. Also during the same decade, the field team undertook habitat protection and restoration measures, and worked closely with the local community to develop a strong sense of pride in this little blue macaw, such that future efforts can build on this investment already made.
The plight of the Blue-throated Macaw has already been mentioned and, since 1993, the LPF has been collaborating with the Bolivian NGO Armonía to bring about its natural recovery. This species is confined to the seasonally inundated grasslands of Beni, north-east Bolivia, where it requires tree and palm-covered islands for nesting and food. This habitat is on private cattle-ranches, and Armonía is working with landowners to persuade them to adopt land management practices less damaging to macaw habitat.
Armonía also mounts education campaigns, and in other ways, it is trying to tackle the continuing hard-to-detect poaching of chicks from nests. In 2003, LPF and Armonia produced the official Species Recovery Plan for the Blue-throated Macaw. Another South American project, this time in Columbia, is for the critically endangered Yellow-eared parrot Ognorhynchus icterotis, which, might be taken off the critical list of the project, continues to enjoy such high success. The Yellow-eared Parrot has a special relationship to the wax palm Ceroxylon for feeding and nesting, and dramatically declined due to the loss of this habitat.
However, the field activities by Fundación ProAves, LPF’s collaborator in Colombia, have raised the population from 81 in 1999 to more than 600 now. On the other side of the world there are other LPF projects to mention. One is for the conservation of the Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, working together with the Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, and with oversight from the Thai Royal Palace. This is a more general bio-diversity and community awareness project, which intends to minimize the impact on the sanctuary of the people who live in the many villages, which surround its border. To be sure, there are interesting parrots to conserve in the sanctuary, such as Finsch’s Parakeet Psittacula finschii, not to mention tigers, elephants and other large beasts.
Another Asian project with LPF involvement is the Philippine Cockatoo Conservation Program, which is attempting to recover the wild population of Cacatua haematuropygia from an all time low due to deforestation and illegal trade. Centred on Palawan, the remaining stronghold for this species, the project has been successful in enlisting local people to guard the known nests in various localities, and as a result the population seems to be edging-up locally.
Loro Parque and the Loro Parque Fundación will continue with their quest to conserve parrots in the wild, provide the best possible welfare in captivity, and to make a visit to a parrot park in Puerto de la Cruz the most memorable experience ever. Please join us!
By: David Waugh
Director, Loro Parque Fundación
Photography supplied by Loro Parque Fondación.
To Contact Loro Parque
Loro Parque S.A
38400, Puerto de la Cruz, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, España,
Fax (+34) 922.375.021
Become a member of Loro Parque Fondación to support their activites.