Loro Parque – 45 years of progress

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Author: Rosemary Low

When Wolfgang Kiessling bought a small hotel on the island of Tenerife no one could have foreseen that this action would put the then small village of Punta Brava on the map worldwide. The fledgling parrot park the he opened there in 1972 was the forerunner of what today has been voted the world’s number one zoo by Trip Advisor. It has received countless other accolades.

When I was there in October I met an English couple who told me: “We don’t like zoos. But the Loro Parque is amazing. We loved it!”

The success of the park is due not only to its immaculate condition and exceptionally beautiful botanical garden setting, but to its constant upgrading of exhibits and the inauguration of new ones. However, it is what happens behind the scenes that makes Loro Parque a world leader. Its 4,000 parrots make it the most important reserve of parrot species anywhere on the planet, with 319 species and sub-species. But, in my view, even more important is Loro Parque Fundación.

Founded in 1994 to support conservation, it has done so in a manner unrivalled by any other organization. Up to 2016 it had committed more than US$17 million to conservation, mainly to parrot projects but also to cetaceans (dolphin and whales). At the 2017 board meeting held in October, it again allocated just over one million dollars to conservation for the coming year, under the able chairmanship of LPF’s Director Christoph Kiessling.

Loro Parque is famous for hosting an international parrot conference every four years, since the first in 1986. The conferences are a Mecca for everyone with a serious interest in parrots and always a meeting ground of countless friends.

Mr Kiessling once jokingly suggested to me of the event, “This is all your fault!”, since it was I who mooted the idea of a convention on our first meeting in 1984.

I have many memories of these important meetings but there is one that stands out about all others. In 1994 I was moved almost to tears by the presentation of Dr Niels Krabbe. He spoke about the yellow-eared parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis) – then called a conure. He showed a video of what was the last know population. Only 60 birds were know to survive. So at the beginning of 1996 Loro Parque Fundación (LPF) started to support the work of Dr Krabbe in Ecuador. He was trying to protect the land on which the last remnant population was known.

I feared that this would be the next parrot to become extinct. Sadly, the Ecuator population disappeared in 1998, possibly trapped, but the species had been rediscovered in Colombia in 1997. The areas it inhabited were so remote that the tiny population could have died out, with only the local people noticing their disappearance.

The story of the yellow-eared parrot is without doubt the most remarkable in the whole history of parrot conservation and ranks near the top for bird conservation worldwide.

Today its population numbers more than four thousand individuals and its range has increased enormously.

The reason I dwell on this species is because there is no doubt that without the funding from LPF, which has reached more than US$1.5 million, and the personnel of ProAves who work in the field, there is no doubt that by now the charismatic yellow-eared parrot would be extinct. It would be difficult to over-state the importance of the work of the foundation. No other organization worldwide supports parrot conservation with even a fraction of the funding provided by LPF. Its projects are implemented by the staff of well chosen NGOs, such ProAves in Colombia and Aquasis and other in Brazil.

In the Philippines, the Katala Foundation, directed by the dynamic duo of Indira and Peter Widman, is largely founded by LPF. It has almost certainly staved off extinction for the red-vented cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) with its multi-faceted programme of field work and education. Incidentally, the biggest genetic captive reserve of this cockatoo is held by the Loro Parque Fundación. Eight young have been reared so far this year.

Other examples of successful projects are too numerous to mention here. But the foundation’s work does not end in the field.

Scientific and veterinary research is also important. Veterinarian and vet students from the best universities in many countries have worked as interns in the clinic at Loro Parque, learning so much that assists the health and welfare of parrots and enabling them to share the knowledge gained.

Viral diseases are a major problem in parrot worldwide. Remarkable strides have been made by the veterinarians at Loro Parque in reducing or eradicating viral diseases in the collection. As an example, polyoma virus has been reduced from 7% in the collection in 2015, down to 0.1% today.

All birds bred in the park and in the Foundation’s breeding center are tested for viral diseases before they are sold. It should be noted that the income from such sales goes to the foundation.

At the board meeting the curator Marcia Weinzettl reported on the 2017 breeding season to date. Outstanding success included 23 blue-throated macaws (Ara glaucogularis), 27 Mount Apo lorikeets (Trichoglossus johnstoniae) and eight rarely bred Pesquet’s parrots (Psittrichas fulgidus).

Marcia’s aim, since she assumed the position of curator last year, is to annually increase the percentage of parent-reared young. In 2015 46% were parent-reared; this year (up to October) the total was 57% of the 779 chicks ringed. Other interesting statistics are that 190 pairs were made up last year and 59.7% of the parrots in the collection are adults.

Loro Parque is strongly represented in the media. In 2017, up to October, 186 articles were published about its work; personnel gave 33 radio interviews and twelve on television and spoke at 32 conferences. The Foundation has 35,800 followers on Facebook.

Thirty-six thousand copies of its newspaper Cyanopsitta were published, many of which were distributed in local newspapers, including colouring pages to attract the attention of children.

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