Our monthly spotlight on the superstars at the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park… and their keepers!
Spring is in the air at the zoo in Gibraltar. It’s a time for thinking about who and what we love. For two years now, the AWCP, in conjunction with Gibraltar Botanic Gardens and other Gibraltar-based entities, has supported the Climate Coalition’s #ShowTheLove Campaign. “This campaign is great for getting people to think about the world we live in and to appreciate what we have,” says Jessica, the Park Manager. “The aim is to get people of all ages to recognise the link between Climate Change and how it will affect the things we love and hopefully take action and make a change for the better.”
This Year, Prior Park will be in the Botanic Gardens creating seed bombs with Christine Gilder, as part of the Gardening Club. These seed bombs will be implemented in disused areas and create a haven for wildlife, which will also tie in nicely with the UK Zoo Association’s annual ‘Grab That Gap’ campaign. “Last year we had schools and the Gardening Club creating green hearts with messages of love for the environment on Valentine’s Day. This year we hope to share the love even more with these seed bombs that can be planted anywhere to create wild spaces for life to thrive”.
Despite being one of the smallest British zoos, the Alameda Wildlife Park in Gibraltar likes to think big. For the past twelve years, the Park Manager, Jessica Leaper, has been determined to see this little zoo thrive. One of the goals of the first strategic plan was to create a park for Gibraltar to be proud of. “I saw the potential, as many others had, to turn this little oasis into something very special.” After a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears, this equally small team seems to be getting somewhere. “As an attraction we are currently #1 of 57 things to do in Gibraltar on TripAdvisor. This is an amazing achievement for such a small zoo in a country where tourism is so high. Each year we are seeing an increase in visitors and feedback shows that our visitors are really enjoying our park.”
Even though the zoo is small, there is still a lot going on behind the scenes, and the manager is often in the thick of it. From attending zoo association conferences in the UK, to marketing, education, accounts, events, graphics, fundraising, coordination of projects, and the list goes on. Jessica says, “There really is no regularity to my work, it’s something I love about the role”. As the team expands with evermore experienced and talented staff, the burden is gradually lifting and making way for more exciting projects for the future.
TheAWCP is now becoming more involved in conservation projects internationally. This month, Jessica will be travelling to Brazil, joining zoo experts from Jersey Zoo and Apenhaul for a workshop held by the Mountain Marmoset Conservation Project (MMPC), the focus being two species of tiny primates being rapidly driven to extinction by habitat loss and the wider impacts of the illegal pet trade. During this trip, Jessica will be joining researchers from the UK and Brazil to carry out surveys and collect data to determine species populations in the areas. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to get back to where I started all those years ago, primate research and fieldwork, but it’s also an excellent opportunity for the park to partake in some really valuable conservation. We hope to continue to support this project in the future.” The project also aims to set up captive breeding programs for these marmosets in Brazil, to ensure their future survival. There is potential for the AWCP to send more staff over in the coming years to help out further with research, building, and professional training.
Love in the Zoo
The park’s marmosets, Djump and Rommie, are becoming ambassadors for the MMPC, as they were both rescued from the illegal pet trade. It is marmosets like this in Brazil that are causing a problem for local wildlife. When they are released into the wild from the pet trade, they drive out the other species, or hybridise with them. Rommie and Djump arrived separately to the AWCP but have lived together ever since. “We’d like to say it’s a love story but to be honest, Rommie is definitely the boss! But I’m sure they wouldn’t be without each other”. There are similar ‘love stories’ throughout the Wildlife Park, animals thrown together by circumstance and misfortune, who now live happy lives together. “Our oldest love story is that of La Vieja and El Macho, two long-tailed macaques rescued by Gibraltar Customs in 1994,” Jessica explains. “They were wild-caught and destined for laboratories, they are lucky to be here instead. They are now grandparents as well! We have separated the group to give this old couple some peace and to reduce aggression. Older individuals are often rejected in primate groups, so we protect them from this”.
Valentine’s Day also marks the birthdays of one of the AWCP’s sets of twin Cotton-top tamarins, Frank and Florence. These two were born in 2010 as part of an international breeding programme. They are now awaiting their own love interests in the near future.
This month, staff are busy preparing the park for new developments. Over the past few years the park has been redesigned and redeveloped. Being only a one-acre site, there is not much room for expansion. “We have a few larger plans for the future, such as a Local Biodiversity Area, but for now we have an ingenious and simple way to expand the park for the animals. We can’t expand outwards, so we are going to go up,” explains Jessica. Over the next few months the AWCP will be installing a network of tunnels and platforms for our primate species. Starting with the smallest and lightest, the Cotton-top tamarins will be the first to finally experience treetop living. “I started to plan out the routes for the tunnels and realised it was a bit like the London Underground, so it became the Alameda Overground. We have been fundraising over the Christmas period and have managed to secure generous donations from local companies”. Notably, locally based gaming company, GVC, have opted to sponsor a whole line, station and platform for the tamarins. This will be named the ‘GVC’ line and will form part of Tamarin Bypass, which leads to Tamarin Terminal.
Projects like this are fun and capture the imagination of the visitors to the wildlife park. Once the tunnels are complete, visitors will be able to watch the monkeys and lemurs running along above their heads. This system also allows for flexibility of enclosures and also stimulation for the animals at the Wildlife Park.
As far as daily routine for the manager, there is none. Jessica explains: “Unless I am called in to help in the park I try to make headway with work in the office. At 9am I will first check the parks emails. I then catch up with Steve Perry, our Senior keeper, and the rest of the staff, to discuss any developments or plans for the day. From there I could be doing anything from attending meetings, vet visits, more office work, or helping out in the park. It’s certainly never dull!”
Jessica’s only gripe about her work is that there are not more hours in the day, as there are always a multitude of often very diverse tasks to get through. “It is a case of multitasking throughout most of the day. I still get to work with the animals, mostly on weekends or when we are short-staffed. I really enjoy that aspect, working to a schedule again; this is usually when I get my best ideas. During feeding and cleaning animals or hosing paths, that’s when the real inspiration happens!”
With a small but mighty team of four keepers alongside her, the sky really is the limit for this humble little park.
If you want to #ShowTheLove this February, why not visit the Wildlife Park and pick up a seed bomb or two, or just have a wander round and enjoy some time with the animals? The AWCP is open every day from 10am-4:45pm (last entrance 4.30pm).