Response to Responsible Travel

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On 22nd January 2018, the Travel Weekly run an opinion piece by Mrs. Vicki Brown of Responsible Travel. In this write-up, Mrs. Brown presented various arguments that clearly comprise an anti-zoo rhetoric.

We would like to point out the principal errors in the arguments formulated by Mrs. Brown. Not only do they fail to represent adequately the modern zoological gardens but also mislead the public, by completely ignoring the important labour realized by the modern zoological institutions, not to mention completely omitting the significant successes achieved in the area of animal welfare, conservation of biodiversity, education and sensibilization.

Thus, the Responsible Travel states that they only recognize the reproduction programs of those animal species that are considered endangered under the UICN classification. This approach is extremely narrow-minded and lacks the actual expertise in the issues of the animal conservation. To be precise, Mrs. Brown appears not to know that the Red List of Endangered Species under UICN changes from year to year, and that any, even currently non-endangered species can easily convert into a critically endangered one and this may happen faster than a zoological community can establish a solid reproduction population of the species under human care.

According to this short-sighted argument by Mrs. Brown, the society should first wait until the species becomes endangered, and only then take a certain action. We would like to underline that in many cases such retroactive actions may come too late. One example of such unjustifiably late action is the case of the vaquita a porpoise that lives exclusively in the waters of Baja California (Mexico). A failure to take timely conservation actions led to the situation when the population of these critically endangered dolphins have dropped to the number of only 30 individuals in the wild.  The last chance for this cetacean was to establish a breeding program based on the knowledge and experience gained by the zoo community with other non-endangered porpoise species. But, unfortunately, it proved to be impossible to capture the last living individuals of the species safely, which means that it is more than likely that this species will sadly join a long list of animals extinct from our planet. On the other hand, if a reproduction program in human care for this species had initiated about 10 years ago or earlier, by now the zoo community could have already achieved a stable population of these animals giving them a chance to survive in the wild.

It is important to note that the modern zoological institutions do not work in isolation. There exists a number of highly respected associations that comprise the best knowledge and expertise in the issues of the animal welfare, management of the zoological gardens and aquariums, including the reproduction programs and conservation of biodiversity. Only a few examples are World Association of Zoos and Aquarium (WAZA), American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA), Iberian Association of Zoos & Aquaria (AIZA) and many others.

Thus, the EAZA has a sophisticated management system for the species populations in place by means of which international experts give their recommendations as to which species should have bigger representation in the zoological gardens and which ones do not require reproduction programs because their populations in the wild are secure and well numbered. Such approach allows to measure effectively and in a timely fashion, which actions should be taken to ensure a balance in the populations of each species.

Mrs. Brown claims having read different reports and having spoken to NGOs. We are curious to know if the Responsible Travel actually consulted any of the EAZA reports or professionals while evaluating the issue at hand. Why? Because they are the authentic experts in the issues of the conservation of species. Most of EAZA experts are also members of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group of the UICN, the most authoritative scientific and academic organization in the world in the issues of the ex situ conservation.

Mrs. Brown then proceeds to claim that many people are not aware of the damage caused by the zoological gardens, or, at the very least of the lack of the benefits created by them. It is probably because, despite the efforts of Responsible Travel and her own, the zoological gardens do bring forth huge benefits for the conservation. Just in terms of funding, the zoological gardens, which are members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums, generate more than 20 million euros each year that are directly dedicated to the efforts of the conservation of biodiversity worldwide. Can this be referred to as “causing damage”? Or is it maybe a “lack of benefits”?

It was mentioned that the zoological gardens (both, accredited zoos who are also members of zoological associations and the rest of zoos who do not belong to the associations) dedicate, on the average, 3% of their profits of the nature conservation. This actually means that many of them dedicate higher percentages of the profits, above 10% to be precise, for these purposes. On the other hand, how much of their profits has the Responsible Travel dedicated to the conservation of the animals each year to feel in a position to judge or, otherwise, belittle the efforts of the zoological institutions? How much funding, in general, do tour operators and travel agencies dedicate to the conservation of the biodiversity?

According to Mrs. Brown, the Responsible Travel would like to debunk the myths about conservation. It would be hard for them to achieve that considering that even UICN recognizes the important role of the zoological gardens in the conservation of the biodiversity. Is the case of recuperation of Californian Condor, which was on a brink of extinction, a myth? Or the recuperation of the Przewalski horse, which was extinct, is it also a myth? Or the case of the European bison? These are just some of many undisputed successes of the dedicated work of the zoological community.

It is curious that Mrs. Brown says that they had solicited an independent inquiry that has demonstrated that the visitors were not aware of the lack of conservations efforts realized by the zoos. It is not surprising at all – it is quite clear that the work of the zoological gardens has a positive effect on the conservation and the visitors can see that for themselves.

Another argument that Mrs. Brown employs is that the animals in captivity do not express their natural behaviours. That is a generalization that was not sustained by any further facts or supporting information. It is obvious that a lion in a zoological garden does not demonstrate the behaviour of ambushing, hunting and killing a gazelle. At the same time, there are many other natural behaviours that a lion does express, and from this standpoint, this represents a huge educational potential.

From what it appears, the only source of information that Mrs. Brown and the Responsible Travel utilize is the Born Free EU Zoo Enquiry. They do not consult any zoological associations, not even the UICN. The only used document was created by an NGO whose only goal is to close all the zoological gardens – therefore, it does not impress us as a reliable, independent or expert opinion. Moreover, the referred document represents an analysis regarding the application of the European Zoos Directive and, at no point, does it concern the zoological gardens as a whole, or the adequate work that they do, but concentrates entirely in the problems of the application of the directive document.

Summarizing, we would like to stress that informing the public that the zoological gardens benefit and contribute to the conservation is not a marketing strategy, it is a fact! The zoological community is the primary direct contributor to the nature conservation after the public administrations. Accredited zoological gardens receive over 700 million visitors each year, many of whom are children and students. It has been scientifically proven that the zoological gardens have a positive educational effect. As an example, the zoos have been successful for popularization of the term Biodiversity, which was one of the objectives of the UNO’s “Millennium with a goal to reduce the loss of the biodiversity of our Planet.

Loro Parque Welcomes a Newborn Chinstrap Penguin Chick

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The penguin colony at Loro Parque has recently welcomed a new family member as a Chinstrap penguin chick was born in PlanetPenguin. This birth is considered a real success as it is a very delicate penguin species, which poses quite a challenge in its breeding.

The chick was born weighing 88 grams and spent its first days in a hatcher of BabyPenguin where it was hand-reared. At this time, the penguin chick received 10% of its weight in blended fish, as well vitamins and calcium. During its first month and a half, the chick receives this formula five times a day every three hours; then this frequency is reduced to two meals a day, after which the young penguin starts eating solid food.

Presently, the chinstrap penguin chick weighs 736 grams and has already started the integration process by adapting to its new environment until it is fully integrated with the rest of the penguins at Loro Parque.

Chinstrap penguins inhabit the shore waters of the Antarctic Ocean; they are medium size (46-61 centimeters) and weigh between 5 and 8 kilos. They are able to dive up to 70 meters deep, and their diet is mainly based on Antarctic krill, although they can also eat fish and other crustaceans whenever these are available.

This new addition to the penguin colony, along with four other rockhopper penguin chicks, promises yet another successful year at the penguinarium of Loro Parque. The birth of new chicks is, above all, a good indicator of adequate animal welfare as it demonstrates that all the necessities of the animals are effectively and properly covered, and they can reproduce normally.

Loro Parque considers every single detail when it comes to animal care. In PlanetPinguin not only that their natural habitat is recreated, with 12 tons of snow generated daily, but also the Antarctic light cycles are respected all throughout the year. Presently, the penguin family at Loro Parque is enjoying the polar summer with plenty of light and longer days than in winter.

Loro Parque celebrates the World Environmental Education Day

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This Friday 26th January is a day when the World Environmental Education Day is celebrated. Loro Parque considers this date very important because, as a modern zoo, it is strongly committed to education, which serves as a tool that facilitates the labour of nature conservation. At the same time, Loro Parque does not limit this celebration to just this one day, but maintains a regular program all year round by hosting the educational activities through Loro Parque Fundación.

In this sense, Loro Parque does not only offer workshops and guided tours for students. Its commitment to education goes beyond its facilities. This year, Loro Parque Fundación has renovated its online conference software in order to facilitate and improve its connections with schools from anywhere in Spain or abroad. With these measures, students can get a chance to learn about all the different animals of the Park without stepping out of their classrooms, and, in the process, learn more about the threats that these species are facing in nature and how to contribute to their conservation.

Moreover, Loro Parque Fundación also promotes projects for Primary and Secondary schools in the Canary Islands, an action realized together with the regional government, with the aim of raising awareness among the local population about the need to learn about, protect and preserve the environment and its species, especially in the marine environment, which represent vital importance to the region.

One of the main activities is called The Week of Marine Conservation. This is a multidisciplinary project that involves different schools that realize different activities among their students on the issues related to protection of the oceans, in particular regarding plastic residues. In another activity, called Discovering our Sea, four schools from Tenerife and four from Gran Canaria get to learn more about the marine biodiversity of the Canary Islands. They visit Loro Parque or the aquarium Poema del Mar, or sometimes even go out on a boat and observe some of the species of cetaceans often seen around the islands coasts.

The educational labour is essential to guarantee the conservation of endangered species and biodiversity in general. That is why Loro Parque and Loro Parque Fundación make such a great effort to educate the new generations in order to ensure that their behaviours and decisions have a positive impact on the environment in short, medium and long term.

Dr. Ingrid Visser (Free Morgan Foundation) & Co. banned from entering the premises of Loro Parque

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It is well known that in November 2011, at the request of the authorities of the Netherlands, Loro Parque has accepted at its modern OrcaOcean installations a young female orca Morgan who was found helpless, in an extremely poor condition in the waters of the Wadden Sea in June 2010. This decision to transfer the orca to Loro Parque was made based on the opinions of the experts who came to the decision that it was no longer possible to return her to the wild. Therefore, this solution was the only way to save her life. Here, in Loro Parque, she is now fully integrated into the existing orca group.

Nevertheless, ever since Loro Parque has accepted the animal in need of help, the radical activists from Free Morgan Foundation led by Ingrid Visser visit the park, normally before court hearings or before events aimed at discrediting Loro Parque. Inventing arguments supported by manipulated photographs, they are communicating false information to the public in order to advocate for the release of the orcas into the wild.

Despite the unfriendly attitude of these activists and their smear campaigns against Loro Parque, the park continued to allow them access to its installations, since Loro Parque, recognized by TripAdvisor as the Best Zoo in the World, is deeply committed to the efforts of nature protection and animal welfare and has nothing to hide.  On the contrary, Loro Parque obtained many national and international awards and accreditations which confirm its high standards of operation and first class installations.

In particular, in 2017 Loro Parque became the first European zoo to receive the Humane Conservation recognition from the renowned U.S. animal welfare organization – the American Humane Association. In addition to that, Loro Parque passed the audit realized by Global Spirit, an independent organization whose specialists receive training from Born Free Foundation, to confirm its compliance to the Global Standards in Animal Welfare established by the British Association of Tour Operators (ABTA) and obtained, as the first zoo ever, a 100% compliance certificate!

Last week, Loro Parque received yet another visit from Free Morgan Foundation´s activists, including Ingrid Visser, her associate Rosina Lisker, and the filmmaker Joe Kennedy. This visit was connected with the court case to be heard on 23th January in Utrecht, The Netherlands, where activists repeatedly attempted to illegitimate the transfer of the orca Morgan to Loro Parque, which was realized in accordance with the rules of the International Convention on the Protection of CITES.

This time, however, the activists have clearly crossed the line! First of all, they were denied entry to Loro Parque on Friday, 19thJanuary, because they refused to sign an official document that regulates the use of image and sound recordings for visitors to the park with professional camera equipment. By signing this document, the visitors agree to the established rule that these images will be taken exclusively for private use, while any other use should be coordinated with the management of the park in advance.

This negative encounter was not the only incident that occurred on Friday, more was to come later in the afternoon. During the time of the last orca presentation, which starts at 16.45 o’clock, the activists flew a drone over the OrcaOcean stadium of the Loro Parque. This does not only violate the applicable Spanish law! Such remote-controlled flying devices cannot guarantee safety and put in direct danger the visitors and the animals of the park! It was discovered that the persons responsible for this action, were in fact, Ingrid Visser and her companions and Loro Parque has filed a formal police report.

Due to these circumstances, Loro Parque has taken the decision that, in the interests of visitors and animals under the care of the park, it will make use of its legitimate right and permanently prohibit the entry to Ingrid Visser (and other activists of the Free Morgan Foundation).

This decision will also benefit the orca Morgan, who is due to give birth at the end of this year and who, in opinions of the reputable experts, is unable to survive in the wild not only because of her lack of experience of living and providing for herself in the nature, but also because she suffers from a severe hearing defect which will not allow her survive in the wild on her own.

Loro Parque Foundation collaborates in a study about the impact of toxic substances on the immune system in orcas

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A recent study carried out in collaboration with Loro Parque Foundation concluded that contaminants, such as DDT, PCBs and persistent organic pollutants, accumulated in the seas generate together a toxic cocktail that affects the immune system of orcas to a greater extent than if the animals were exposed to the same amount of each substance separately.

The project supported by Loro Parque Foundation in 2017 aimed at investigating how toxic pollutants in the seas specifically affect the immune system of orcas. Dr. Javier Almunia, Director of Environmental Affairs of Loro Parque Foundation, explained that the novelty of this study lies in the fact that the toxic components were measured combined, which is how they are found in nature, and not individually.

The components were selected due to the frequency of their detection in the corpses of the stranded animals in Antarctica. The scientists from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, then implemented the analysis. The study was conducted in a laboratory with the blood extractions, about half a liter each, that were taken from the orcas in the installations of OrcaOcean in Loro Parque. The blood samples were processed to separate the blood cells responsible for the immune system which were subjected to an in vitro test and then exposed to the toxic cocktail.

Dr. Almunia  explains that the scientific community has knowledge about how each of these components, for example DDT, affects the immune system of orcas but there is not a lot of research done to analyze the effect produced by a combination of different toxic components. The study concludes that the combined impact is greater, i.e., various of these substances together can cause a major pathogenic effect than each individual component in a similar concentration.

The toxic agents, when combined, start to produce an effect on the immune response capacity in orcas faster than expected. It is also possible that these pollutants influence the reproductive system of the animals, as some of them are similar to hormones in structure. In fact, there is a group of resident orcas in Scotland that has not bred for years, and it is suspected that this has to do with pollution. A toxicology analysis on a female orca stranded recently showed a very high concentration of persistent organic pollutants.

As its greatest impact, this toxic cocktail can shorten the life of the animals as their immune systems are forced to fight constantly against the pathogens, which is something that has already been seen previously in dolphins. Dr. Almunia emphasizes that obviously, “it is difficult to demonstrate that pollution was a direct cause of the death of an animal as, logically, an animal dies eventually as a result of a pathology, an infection, a tumor or a parasite infestation.”

The question that the expert of Loro Parque Foundation raises is how much easier it is for a pathogen to affect the health of an animal whose immune system is depressed. Further extensive studies are needed to answer that, and that is why Loro Parque Foundation is working together with the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, to identify and analyze the concentration of toxic substances in animals stranded in the Canary Islands.

Up until now, the toxicology has focused on studying each single compound, and this study supported by Loro Parque Foundation helps to bring forth a different perspective which can determine whether toxic compounds, once accumulated in an organism, interact in any particular way among themselves causing, as a result, a greater impact on the immune system in animals.

As far as the regulation and control of these toxic substances is concerned, Dr. Javier Almunia comments that the results of this study are published in the Environmental Science & Technology magazine and are, therefore, available to the scientific community. The next step would be to deliver this information to the political level for the appropriate decisions to be made to address the matter.

The Aquarium ‘Poema del Mar’ in Gran Canaria opens to the public on 8th January

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Having celebrated the formal inauguration on 17th December, the Aquarium ‘Poema del Mar’ opens its doors to the general public in the centre of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria next Monday, 8th January 2018, with the opening hours available from 9:00 until 18:00. Starting next week, this project will allow the visitors of the Canarian Islands to discover the spectacular biodiversity of our Planet.

‘Poema del Mar’ has a firm commitment to innovation, conservation of biodiversity and excellence in the matters of the sustainable tourism. This has already been noted by the Authorities of the Canary Islands, who consider the project to be of “strategic interest for the region”. This will, undoubtedly, reinforce the international relevance of Gran Canaria and the entire archipelago as one of the best tourist destinations worldwide.

‘Poema del Mar’ will focus its efforts on the conservation of the Atlantic marine biodiversity in coordination with Loro Parque Fundación, an organisation with more than 20 years of experience in this field and over 100 conservation projects in 30 countries dedicated to the protection of endangered species, with a total investment to-date of USD17,000,000.

Discovering ‘Poema del Mar’

 During your visit to ‘Poema del Mar’, you will discover three different zones: surface marine ecosystems, deep sea marine ecosystems and fresh-water species. The visitor will start its journey immersing itself in the first of these zones, The Jungle, which recreates diverse landscapes in a real tribute to the five continents. The Reef is the second area of ‘Poema del Mar’, which will invite you to a promenade around a giant cylinder that shows a great variety of multiple, bright colours created by the corals and fish. This fascinating tour will culminate in the Deep Sea, where the largest exhibition curved window in the world will surely not leave you unmoved.

For those interested in purchasing tickets, please find below the list of prices:

  • Non-resident adult: 25 €
  • Non-resident child (up to the age of eleven): 17,50 €
  • Resident adult: 18 €
  • Resident child (up to the age of eleven): 13 €

The entrance is free for children below the age of 4.

The entry tickets for ‘Poema del Mar’ can be purchased via the following locations starting tomorrow, January 6th 2018: