Canadian Parrot Symposium

Canadian Parrot Symposium

 

 

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Loro Parque and Its Foundation:
A breeding centre for parrots and its contribution to species conservation

by Wolfgang Kiessling

Executive summary

Loro Parque was created as a parrot park in 1972, on the island of Tenerife, in the Canarian archipelago of Spain. Over the years, the park built up the world's largest and most diverse parrot collection, and expanded to include other animals, particularly in the year of 1992 when it doubled in size. Loro Parque today is considered a first-class zoological and botanical garden reputed for its outstanding animal management. It uses its animals, including the parrots, as emblematic ambassadors in order to promote the conservation of the environment. The park became involved in its first parrot conservation programme in 1987, when it financed its first field project and hosted a meeting to address the conservation needs of the Spix's macaw Cyanopsitta spixii. In 1994 was founded the Loro Parque Fundación, and the ownership of the parrot collection transferred from Loro Parque to the foundation. The activities of the foundation include the conduct of environmental education and captive research programmes, but particularly focus on the captive breeding of parrots and the collaboration in a number of parrot and biodiversity field conservation programmes; above 1.5 million USD have so far been spent in such activities.

The History and Attractions of Loro Parque

Loro Parque is located in Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife, one of the seven islands of Canarian archipelago, which although located off the coast of western Africa belongs to Spain. The islands boast a mild subtropical climate with only minor seasonal changes, and are among the most important destinations for tourists from west-central Europe.

Loro Parque opened its doors to the public in 1972, on an area of 13,000 m2. The main attraction was a parrot show, the first to be seen in Europe. Over the years, the park built up the world's largest parrot collection, and many new attractions were added. A group of chimpanzees confiscated by the Spanish authorities was deposited in Loro Parque in 1978. Two Bengal tigers Panthera tigris confiscated from street photographers came to Loro Parque in the same manner. The dolphin show was inaugurated in 1987 and contributed considerably to the fact that the number of annual visitors to the park increased to above one million. With 7.000 m3 of sea water it is one of the largest in the world, and all original six animals are with us to the present day. Over the years, three young have been added.

In 1992, on its 20th anniversary, the park saw its most important amplification, when its area increased tenfold to 135,000 m2. In that year, a village built in authentic Thai style replaced the modest former entrance gate, to welcome the visitor to an environment of exotic plants and animals. A large Gorilla exhibit was finished that included two terraces clad in natural vegetation of altogether 3,500 m2. Six male Western Lowland Gorillas Gorilla gorilla gorilla were brought together in a unique experiment to study the possibility of keeping male-only bachelor groups; the experiment has proven very successful up to the present day. A show with Californian sea lions was put together in a separate facility. And finally, an aquarium was opened with exhibits showing fish of the Amazon river, fish from the African Rift valley lakes, the marine life of the Canary islands, and coral reefs. Also a shark tunnel was built that upon its opening was the largest of its kind.

In 1996, the park constructed the wide-screen movie theatre, Naturavision, to accommodate a nature film that was first shown on the World Exhibit in Sevilla in 1992. At the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Loro Parque in 1997, the Loro Show was presented in a new environment: an Arabian palace. The Jaguars Panthera onca, captive bred in other zoos, were added to the animal collection in 1997 and put in a new enclosure in the form of a crater. The exhibit of the American alligators Alligator mississippiensis was remodelled in early 2000; the water of the pool in the enclosure as well as the surrounding sand are heated to 27 degrees celsius, such that the animals can behave and digest their food as if under natural conditions.

The largest undertaking of Loro Parque to date was, without any doubt, the construction in 1999 of the unique Planet Penguin—the largest and most modern penguinarium in the world. The facility—which cost around 10 million USD—was planned and built in close cooperation with the US-based SeaWorld group. It comprises a total surface of 3,900 m2, and holds two exhibits. The main exhibit, oval in shape, holds 140 penguins of three Antarctic species; Gentoo Pygoscelis papua, Rockhopper Eudyptes chrysocome and King penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus. To ensure optimal environmental parameters, the air in this exhibit is cooled to 0 degrees C and the sea water to 10 degrees C. Six ice-producing machines above the inner roof provide constant snowfall, which covers the excrement and improves the hygiene. The complex light system allows the park to simulate the daily and annual photocycles in the Antarctic ocean, such that moult and breeding periods follow the natural pattern. The use of cutting edge cooling and filter systems can guarantee the air and water quality necessary for such a huge facility. The second exhibit holds a species from warmer climates: Humboldt penguins Spheniscus humboldti which came from Penscynor Zoo in England, and are here kept under the local subtropical conditions. After only one year, nine young Humboldts have already been reared. Upon leaving Planet Penguin the visitor comes across another major attraction: an acrylic cylinder—with a height of 8.5 meters and a weight of 11.8 tons the largest of its kind—which contains some 8,000 sardines.

Over the years, Loro Parque has grown in size to 135,000 m2 and today receives 1.5 million visitors every year. It has become one of the leading zoological gardens in Europe, and has gained a worldwide reputation for the high quality of its installations. In 1995, the five star Hotel Botanico became a major component of what today is the Loro Parque Group. The highest recognition Loro Parque has received so far was the awarding of the Prince Philip of Spain Prize for Excellence in Business in May 2000.

Loro Parque Fundación: Its Founding and Objectives

The year of 1987 proved to be an important year for Wolfgang Kiessling, founder and director of Loro Parque. It saw his first participation in a conservation venue: a meeting in Curitiba of the then Parrot Specialist Group of the World Conservation Organisation IUCN. The bleakness of the situation that many parrots and their natural environment faced initiated a struggle that eventually led to the establishment of a parrot conservation foundation. Still in 1987, Loro Parque also hosted a first-ever meeting in Tenerife to address the critical situation of the Spix's macaw, in which several of the key stakeholders participated.

In 1994, the Loro Parque Fundación (LPF) was eventually created, and registered as a non-profit charity organisation with the Spanish Ministry for Science and Education. It has become the tool through which Loro Parque contributes to the conservation of parrots—in fact, of biodiversity in general. The main objectives of the foundation encompass the conduct of captive research and environmental education programmes, the captive breeding of parrots, and the collaboration in and financial support of parrot field conservation programmes.

Upon its creation, Loro Parque transferred the ownership of its parrot collection to the foundation. This being so, a loan agreement was signed between Loro Parque and LPF, under which the former pays for all the maintenance costs in return for the public exhibition in the park of one pair of each species in the collection. Loro Parque therefore covers the salaries of the veterinarians, biologists and keepers that look after the birds, as well as the costs for feeding and medical treatment. 700 to 800 offspring are made available to the foundation every year and are used to establish new breeding pairs within the collection or sent to other collections under co-operative breeding agreements. The LPF is deeply committed to co-operative breeding programmes: it coordinates five (Blue-throated Macaw Ara glaucogularis, Red-browed Amazon Amazona rhodocorytha, Red and Blue Lory Eos histrio, Mount Apo Lorikeet Trichoglossus johnstoniae, Red-spectacled Amazon Amazona pretrei) and participates in 20 of the 21 European Studbooks and Endangered Species Breeding Programmes (EEPs) in existence. The remaining surplus parrots are sold, and the revenue—about 200,000 USD annually—used entirely to support in-situ parrot conservation projects.

Loro Parque furthermore supplies the offices of the foundation and pays the administrative costs and the office personnel. Altogether the contribution by Loro Parque to the running costs of the foundation amount to around 700,000 USD every year. In addition, Loro Parque has donated around 1.5 million USD to LPF to cover the costs of land, construction and equipment. The sale of products and donation boxes inside Loro Parque adds another 200,000 USD to the income of LPF. Finally, the banks and exclusive suppliers which collaborate with Loro Parque are requested to donate appropriate amounts into the foundation. Together with the contributions of our sponsors and our members, the foundation disposes of about 450,000 USD which are fully available for the support of its projects and activities.

La Vera: The New Parrot Breeding Centre

To relocate the parrot collection to outside Loro Parque, a new property of 3 ha located a few kilometres away was purchased. In 1997 and 1998, the aviaries and necessary buildings—storehouses for the animal food, operating rooms, changing rooms, cleaning rooms—were constructed. The breeding centre was inaugurated in September 1998, and is commonly called "La Vera." An auxiliary veterinary clinic was added in 2000, such as to avoid the transport of the birds to Loro Parque, located a few kilometres away.

The breeding centre contains 1000+ aviaries, which are divided into two sections of about equal size and capacity. The first section is covered with a blue nylon net that allows air and light to pass unhindered. It is specially designed for parrots from open habitats, such as the Australian grass lands. The purpose of the netting is not so much much to hinder birds from flying away, but much rather to keep unwanted animals outside of the breeding centre: pigeons, in particular, as a major source of diseases. The second section of the breeding centre is designed for animals from tropical rain forests. It is covered with black nylon netting that reduces the incoming light by 50% and at the same time acts as a windbreak. This type of netting thus maintains the area more humid, and notably cooler during the day and warmer during the night.

All aviaries are set up individually, and are separated by a planted space of 60 to 75 cm. The plants separating the aviaries from each other provide the birds with some privacy, and serve as a barrier against wind and other environmental factors. Fruit trees are planted all over the breeding centre providing food for the birds that has not been treated with chemicals.

The largest aviaries are used for flocking of non-breeding birds to give them a free choice of mates and hopefully trigger breeding activities. This has given excellent results, most recently with the successful breeding of Red-tailed Amazons Amazona brasiliensis. The sizes of the breeding aviaries range from between 14 m to 2.5 m in length. All the aviaries have a sprinkler system installed in the roof which we use to recreate the seasons and influence the breeding cycle of our birds.

In the majority, the young in our collection are reared by their own parents. The huge breeding potential of the LPF parrot collection is not used in a commercial manner, and the management resorts to hand rearing only in the case of necessity. The ultimate aim is to guarantee the perpetuity of the species spectrum and genetic reserve of the unique collection. The breeding success has made that the collection has doubled in size between 1995 and 2000, and now counts c. 3000 birds of 305 species.

Captive Research

The Loro Parque Fundación conducts and supports research programmes in the fields of veterinary medicine, nutrition and behaviour, using its parrot collection as a unique source of information. Principally, these projects aim to further improve the husbandry and welfare of parrots in captivity, and to elucidate the taxonomic relationship of parrot taxa. However, in selected cases, the information gained can also be applied to assist recovery programmes for parrots threatened in the wild state.

The foundation collaborates on an international level with a number of research institutions. In some cases, the LPF provides samples, such as blood for DNA analyses. In other cases, the LPF also financed such research, for example the work of Dr Bran Ritchie to identify the causative agent of Proventricular Dilatation Disease, supported with 50,000 USD.

In addition to the external projects, the foundation also conducts its own research programmes. Research programmes conducted at LPF have included a study of the growth rates of parent-reared versus hand-reared chicks, the quantification of the diets of lories, investigation of the behavioural effects of environmental enrichment in various species, studies of the captive behaviour and husbandry of Purple-bellied Parrots Triclaria malachitacea and Golden Conures Guaruba guarouba, a study into food consumption and nutritional requirements in the Cuban Amazon Amazona leucocephala, an assessment of the occurrence and origin of parrot feather-plucking, as well as continuous observations on the behaviour and captive management of the Spix's Macaw Cyanopsitta spixii.

Furthermore, the foundation accepts a number of students each year, to provide them with training in the fields of avian veterinary medicine or captive parrot management.

Education and Dissemination of Information

Loro Parque with its animals and 1.5 million annual visitors represents a huge opportunity to transmit a message on the need to protect our natural environment. One and a half years ago the LPF therefore established an education department, which focuses particularly on the school classes that come to Loro Parque. In Planet Penguin, for example, we have installed interactive screens and large panels that deal with the exploitation of the natural resources in the Antarctic Ocean. All the parrot aviaries in the park have their respective educational signs, which provide information to the visitor about the respective species, its origin, nutrition, social systems and threats.

The LPF transmits its expertise in parrot captive management and field conservation through its trimestral newsletter Cyanopsitta, as well as through the workshops on captive parrots which are held two to three times per year. Since 1986, Loro Parque has organised and hosted every four years the International Parrot Convention on Tenerife, a venue which brings together a great number of parrot researchers, conservationists and aviculturists. Most recently, Loro Parque launched a new nature magazine—named Scenes of the World. Published in three languages—English, Spanish and German—it offers an exquisite introduction into many of the wonders of nature, presented by the leading experts in their fields, and first-class photography.

Field Projects

A central aspect of the work of Loro Parque and—since 1994—Loro Parque Fundación is its deep involvement with parrot conservation in the field. Already in 1987, Loro Parque financed its first project, to help the two endemic Amazons on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

Since the creation of the foundation in 1994, however, the commitment has increased considerably. The foundation today finances and assists comprehensive field programmes in countries where parrots occur, which use parrots as emblematic flagships in the effort to salvage the world's most critically endangered tropical ecosystems. Community-based protection and education measures, ecological studies, parrot population monitoring and re-introduction programmes, and designating habitats for preservation are all essential components of these field conservation projects.

At present, the LPF supports 14 such projects, with an annual spending budget of around 300,000 USD. Altogether, Loro Parque and LPF have spent and committed around 1.5 million USD for projects aimed at protecting parrots and their habitats, in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Dominica, Belize, Southern Africa, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

For the selection of the projects it supports, as well as for its further institutional development, the LPF can count on the contribution of a board of scientific advisors, which meets once every year on Tenerife. The board includes renowned experts such Tomás de Azcárate, Susan Clubb, Nigel Collar, Wolfgang Grummt, Povl Jorgensen, Joachim Steinbacher, Ian Swingland, David Waugh, and Roland Wirth.

The Spix's Macaws Recovery Programme

Loro Parque has played an important role in the Spix's macaw programme ever since it became involved and hosted a meeting of the principal stakeholders in 1987. Although this meeting proved unsuccessful, it paved the way for the eventual establishment of the Permanent Committee for the Recovery of the Spix's Macaw, proclaimed by the Brazilian government in 1990. Loro Parque was one of the founder members at the time, together with the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA, TRAFFIC South America, the CITES Secretariat, a number of ornithologists and lastly, several of the holders of Spix's macaws.

From its inception, Loro Parque supported the programme in every possible aspect, to prevent the extinction of the species. Since 1990, Loro Parque and its foundation have sent near 600,000 USD to the field project in Brazil, and provided technical advice to the programme whenever necessary.

When the recovery efforts started, it seemed a futile and desperate struggle: only 17 birds in captivity remained, and a single last wild male near the town of Curaça, in the state of Bahia in the dry northeast of Brazil. Nevertheless, a field project was established in the Curaça area: a field research station was built and the male constantly monitored and its biology investigated.

The last wild bird was identified as being a male with the first ever conducted DNA-sexing. The foundation financed the construction of a large flight aviary in order to prepare birds for release during future re-introduction programmes. In 1995, then, a female was released to join and pair up with him. The two met after one month and stayed together for another, until the female suddenly disappeared overnight. This was a huge setback to the programme, but also a learning experience. Since 1995, the scope of the project has been greatly expanded, to increasingly involve the local population in all aspects of the programme. With the support from the LPF, a number of rural schools were built and an old theatre renovated, which now functions as a cultural and environmental centre in the town of Curaça. Today, the Spix's macaw has become a major emblem for the whole community, which is the ideal basis for the next re-introduction attempts.

To assess the feasibility of a release of captive-bred birds into the harsh Caatinga environment, 9 Illiger macaws bred at Loro Parque Fundación were released in a pilot experiment in January 2000. Of these birds, seven survived until after the first year.

The last wild male survives to the present day, and there are now more than 60 birds in captivity. During the last meeting of the CPRAA in Houston in September 1999, and encouraged by the success from the pilot release, Antonios de Dios agreed to provide five of his young birds for a release programme.

The eventual release of Spix's macaws bred in captivity is the aim of over ten years of recovery efforts, the single avenue to re-establish a wild population in the natural area of occurrence of the species.

Summary

There are three ways in which the breeding and sale of parrots by Loro Parque Fundación can contribute to the huge task of saving some of the threatened species of our planet: First, the parrot collection of LPF functions as a genetic reserve and as a safety net for species endangered in the wild state. In special cases, we are able to make available birds for re-introduction schemes. Second, the sale of surplus parrots by LPF on the parrot market reduces the pressure exerted on wild populations. And third, the income provided to LPF through the sale of its surplus parrots represents an important resource in support of parrot conservation programmes in the field.

For some time, there have been some discrepancies between aviculturists on the one hand and conservationists on the other hand. Fortunately, this has been changing over the last years, and both sides are in the process of recognising that they have much to learn from one another. Eventually, their aims are related to each other. We must not be bird breeder or conservationist, but join hands in the effort to protect and save the parrots together with the natural environment in which they live. No other organisation worldwide works so close and at the same time competent to the borderline between aviculture and parrot conservation as the Loro Parque Foundation, and thus functions as a competent facilitator between the two complementary sides.

 


Wolfgang Kiessling (Canary Islands)

Mr. Kiessling founded Loro Parque in 1972 with the main objective of conserving and reproducing parrots within a beautiful natural setting designed just for them. Housing over 3,000 birds of 300 species, Loro Parque has one of the largest collections in the world. At four-year intervals, Mr. Kiessling and Loro Parque host the International Parrot Convention, attended by delegates from around the world. The 5th of these conferences will be held in September 2002.

 


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