Our monthly spotlight on the superstars at the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park… and their keepers!
Since its very beginning, the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park has relied heavily on the hard work and dedication of volunteers. For the past 5 years, the park has also run an internship programme. This programme has proved to be beneficial not just to the park, but also to the budding animal keepers who have taken part. Placements are usually anywhere between 3 months to a year, and they are usually self-funded. This may seem a lot to expect, but jobs worldwide are notoriously competitive. Many require experience with a range of exotic species and, increasingly so, specific academic training as well as higher education. Internships and work experience placements like those offered at the AWCP, enable people to gain these important skills and experience with a variety of species. Being a small zoo with a small staff-base, interns are generally given more responsibility and an opportunity to gain a broader range of skills than those in larger zoos. Since the beginning of the programme, most of the AWCP’s interns have gone on to gain employment at some of the best zoos in the UK or further afield.
At present the park has one intern, Linda Simenstad from Norway, who is now nearing the end of her 6-month stay. Linda has a varied experience in animal care and husbandry, mostly in a rescue centre in South Africa and wolf sanctuary in Portugal. Prior to starting at the AWCP, she had taken a break from travelling and was working in the gaming industry in Malta. When she saw the internship come up on the BIAZA (British & Irish Association of Zoos & Aquaria) website, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to get back to nature again.
All interns undergo a training period of a week or two, where they will get to experience working on all sections of the park and with almost all of the species. After this period most will have a preferred section to specialise in, be it primates, reptiles, birds, or small mammals. They will then get the chance to work more closely with these species, often taking part in training, enrichment and routine medical procedures. In a small, but busy park, it is very easy to gain a variety of skills very quickly. Linda says: “I have really enjoyed the level of responsibility I have been given during my time here, it really pushes you to learn quickly and to gain more skills and knowledge.”
9:00am – Linda arrives at the same time as the majority of the keepers and starts the day by preparing the daily feeds for the animals, alongside Lucy, the section keeper. Linda has dedicated her time to work mostly on the small mammals section, but also regularly helps out with birds and the lemurs when required. One of the filthiest jobs is the cleaning out of the potbellied pig pen – especially in winter when the ground is wet and muddy. The three potbellied pigs, Wally, Vallete, and Serranito (or ‘Ham’) have been at the park for many years. All were once, rather surprisingly, household pets in Gibraltar. As Vallete and Ham are both un-neutered males, they have to be kept separately to prevent conflict. Ham also suffers from a skin condition which is likely the result of underlying issues caused by improper diet in his previous life. Wally is the largest specimen, but was brought to the AWCP as a ‘miniature pig’. Most recently he was suffering from an overgrown tusk to the point that it was causing him pain when eating (his favourite pastime), so Lucy and Linda were faced with the awkward task of trimming them down. Fortunately, Wally loves a belly rub and will fall to the ground at the slightest tickle. So while Linda occupied him with a belly rub, Lucy was able to remove the offending tusk with a strong pair of cutters. Wally is recovering well and is now far more comfortable with his shorter tusks. Male pigs (or boars) tend to have large tusks which normally do not need trimming, the problem normally occurs in neutered males or can be caused by injuries to the mouth area often during fights.
11:00pm – After a brief break time with the team, Linda will finish off any enclosure cleaning required. Often this means spending a while in with the Egyptian fruit bats, sieving their sand substrate. “It’s a laborious task, but in wintertime when it’s cold outside, spending time in the warmth makes it a more pleasant occupation,” says Linda. “I have grown surprisingly fond of the Egyptian fruit bats, I just find them so cute and fascinating. It’s the unexpected personalities of animals that you begin to realise when you work so closely with them, you get to know their individual ways.”
Working with the animals at the park is something many of the Interns (and staff) relish. The opportunity to work with the animals every day gives an amazing insight into their lives and individual personalities – it is very easy to get attached. Prior to working at the AWCP, Linda had not worked with many of the species before and certainly was not able to be so hands on in her previous volunteer positions. “I feel I have gained so much experience and a variety of skills, from helping to train the otters, to assisting with routine medical procedures. It has been a real eye-opener. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the job has been working with like-minded people who are as passionate about conservation and wildlife as I am. It is a real privilege to work with professional zoo keepers who are willing to take the time to share their knowledge and teach others.”
2:30pm – After the 2.00pm feeds are distributed to the animals, Linda is also able to utilise her other skills to help the park manager, Jess Leaper, with some of the park’s other projects. Taking care of the animals is just one aspect of running the zoo; there is a lot going on behind the scenes. The park has a 5-year strategic plan that will run until 2020. One of the park manager’s jobs is to ensure that the park is meeting its goals and objectives written out in this plan. “The next exciting plan for 2019 is the ‘Alameda Overground Project’ says Jess. As the 1-acre wildlife park is limited in space, this project overcomes this obstacle by building up. “A series of tunnels, platforms and tree-top walkways will take some of our animals back into the trees, creating more space, adding enrichment and flexibility to the enclosures. The concept is based on the London Underground system: local companies can ‘buy’ and name a tunnel, station or platform that forms part of the Alameda Overground network. Each station will have a name, either named by us or by the sponsoring company.” states Jess. Linda has used her knowledge of corporate companies in order to help tailor this concept to attract sponsorship. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to use all my skills to help the park to drive its projects forward,” Linda says.
This must have worked because within days of the first email going out, GVC Holdings bagged the first line, station, and platform! This project will run into the new year, with the tunnel building due to commence at the end of January.*
4:00pm – At the Wildlife Park, there are usually a few projects on the go. One of the campaigns run by the park, of particular interest to Linda, is the Conscious Eating/Cut Meat: Not Trees Campaign. “I am not vegan, or even vegetarian, but I love wildlife and nature and it’s so important that people understand the link between what we eat and the devastating effects on the environment from eating too much meat and dairy.” The IPCC report on Climate Change released last year clearly states that our addiction to meat and dairy is slowly killing the planet. The Conscious Eating Campaign has been running for 3 years now and aims to encourage people change their eating habits, for the good of their health and for the environment. A recent event that the Conscious Eating team attended in December was the CHAMP Winter Finale. CHAMP (Children Healthy & Active! Multi-agency Programme) which aims to get children active and healthy through exercise, contact with nature and healthy foods. Reducing meat and dairy dependency in children diets is crucial for their future health and also the health of their planet. Conscious Eating will be introducing Meat as a Treat and encouraging Meat Free Mondays in Schools throughout 2019. “We served tasty meat and dairy-free pizza bites at the Winter Finale, they went down really well with the kids and it just shows how flexible kids can be if given the right opportunity,” says Linda. The pizzas were provided by Georgia & Máté’s Kitchen, a plant-based takeaway service just over the border in Spain that provides delicious deliveries to Gibraltar and the Campo area (and the delivery is free!).
*Any companies wishing to sponsor this exciting project or to find out more about any of the AWCP’s other projects, email [email protected]. The AWCP is open every day from 10am-4.45pm. More information can be found on the website: www.awcp.gi.
BY JESS LEAPER