By Jess Leaper

Retirement, spare time or a desire to get back to nature… just some of the reasons many people decide to volunteer at the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park. Long-term volunteers have become the backbone of the park over the years, right from its conception in 1994. Regular and reliable are two assets that are invaluable to a small wildlife park; the regularity of their volunteer work not only enables them to gain a good understanding of the running of the park but also allows the full-time staff regular times during the week to get on with other tasks.

At present, all of the AWCP’s long-term volunteers work with the bird section. The bird section at the AWCP is mostly a collection of parrots, including some of the original confiscated African Grey parrots, as well as some unwanted pets. Jumbo is one such parrot. This chatty seven-year-old blue & yellow macaw is renowned among visitors to the park for his greetings and musings. His vocabulary includes nursery rhymes such as “How much is that doggy in the window?” to “Old MacDonald”, much to the delight of the park’s younger guests. Jumbo was hand-reared from a hatchling and lived in a small flat with his owners for two years before they made the difficult decision to give him up.

Moving to the Wildlife Park took some adjustment for Jumbo. Many hand-reared birds have little awareness that they are birds, rather than humans and the adjustment to that reality can be long and sometimes painful. The AWCP has had to deal with this transition with many different species over the years, and some in particular don’t manage it too well. Jumbo is currently undergoing training with the staff at the AWCP, both for enrichment and to enable staff to manage him more easily and safely. He has already mastered crate-training (for movement purposes) and weight training (so staff can monitor his weight). The keepers are now working on getting him used to the nail clippers, along with a full body and wing check. This makes management of such a big bird much easier and far less stressful for both the staff and the parrot.

10am – The main important aspect for the volunteers is making sure each parrot has just one of their favourite ‘healthy’ treats, be it a peanut, a piece of fruit or a walnut for the larger parrots, but volunteers also help the AWCP staff to provide enrichment for the parrots too. Eddie Mandleburg has been volunteering at the AWCP for many years, every Monday and Friday. Recognisable to most locals for his two friendly pet cockatoos, often seen on his shoulders around town, Eddie has dedicated a lot of his spare time to ensuring the birds at the AWCP have the best possible care, often utilising his DIY skills to help out where possible.

Parrots are very intelligent and social animals. It is now thought that they are potentially more intelligent than monkeys. Birds’ brains are similarly proportioned to primates, including apes, monkeys, and humans. Studies of brain anatomy also suggest that while the structure is different from that of mammals’ brains, birds may have a higher degree of connectivity between the sections of their brains. This could indicate more intelligence and faster reasoning than previously believed. For this reason, if left alone for long periods of time, or in an unstimulating environment, many pet parrots can become destructive, either to themselves, feather-plucking, or to their surroundings, destroying furnishings etc. At the wildlife park, the parrots are given access to natural branches so they can exhibit natural chewing behaviours. Where possible they are also housed with, or in close proximity to, other parrots, ideally with the same species. Eddie has helped to create many natural enrichment devices for the parrots, using his experience of keeping his parrots busy at home.

12pm – Whilst keepers and volunteers attend to the needs of the animals in the park, Frances ‘Fran’ Scott helps out twice a week in the office/reception, greeting and serving customers and helping out with paperwork and office tasks. Fran’s background in management training and managing her own, successful training business, EpocTraining, means she has a lot of useful advice to offer, as well as excellent organisation skills. Fran has utilised these skills lending a hand at park events such as Calentita and Open Days too.

Over the years, the Wildlife Park has gone from strength to strength. As a ‘not for profit’, all the income goes directly back into caring for the animals and improving their life at the park. With a subsidy from the government to cover most of the basic costs, any extra income, be it entrance fees or donations, is invaluable for the animals at the park. Any extra income also allows the park to continue its important conservation work too. Over the years, the number of visitors to the park has increased substantially, through improved advertising and marketing, raising the profile of the park, both locally and abroad. ‘Improving our visitor numbers is important for many reasons, but one of our primary aims is to raise awareness of important conservation issues and issues affecting animal species worldwide. The more visitors we have, the more we can spread this message.’ Says AWCP Manager, Jess Leaper. ‘It seems to be working, the majority of our guests really seem to understand what we are trying to achieve. We don’t have really high numbers of visitors but the visitors we do have appreciate the quality of the work we are doing and the quality of care afforded to our animals’.

2pm – Most of the birds were hand-reared for the pet trade so most are rather friendly with the keepers and volunteers, sometimes a little too friendly! Lynn Swanson, a volunteer at the park for two years now, has taken to wearing a cap to work due to the amorous attentions of a Black lory named Blackie. Sadly, Blackie is the only lory left since his ‘mate’ Waku the Red lory, passed away due to old age a couple of years ago. He has since turned his attentions to his human companions, keepers and volunteers.

Blackie’s next-door neighbours and companions, the Ring-necked or Rose-ringed and Alexandrine parakeets were also mostly pets kept locally but a couple managed to find their way to the zoo by themselves. Many of these parakeet species are living feral in Spain and in the UK and have become an invasive species, destructive to local bird populations.

The Rose-ringed parakeet looks almost identical to an endangered parakeet found only in Mauritius. The Mauritius parakeet population had reduced to only five individuals until Durrell Conservation Trust (Jersey Zoo) intervened in 2004 with a successful breeding programme to save this species from the brink of extinction. Although Rose-ringed parakeets are very common, this is a species that can be utilised to raise awareness of not only this endangered species but also of the negative impacts of feral species populations created by irresponsible pet owners, not to mention the important work of zoos saving species around the world.

3pm – Along with helping out in the park, Debbie and Lynn often spend the afternoon helping prepare the fruit and vegetable chops for the next day, something that really helps free up the staff for other tasks. Smaller species, such as the endangered Cotton-top tamarin, require their food to be chopped into smaller, tiny-hand-sized pieces. Both Lynn and Debbie have the patience to stand for an hour or so, painstakingly creating half centimetre cubes of a variety of fruit and vegetable for these delicate animals.

All volunteers are invited to help out at Open Days and events and most revel in the opportunity to join the team on what often turn out the be the busiest days of the year. Debbie Taylor has helped out at the AWCP since 2016 and has run the successful craft stall at Open Days for a few years running, also helping out at last year’s Environmental Day stall at the Commonwealth Park. Most Open Days are free entrance so hundreds flock to the park to join in the fun activities put on by the staff and volunteers. There is usually a bouncy castle, face-painting, crafts and Keeper Talks in the park. Open Days are often themed, with a particular awareness-raising or fund-raising cause. All have been a great success, raising funds for conservation projects such as the Barbary Macaque Awareness Conservation Project (BMAC) in Morocco and more recently the Mountain Marmoset Conservation Project (MMCP) in Brazil, but also for the park’s own projects. With two main events each year, Halloween is always a favourite with families and an event to behold, with freaky goings-on in the park and fancy-dress parades.

On Saturday May 18th this year, the park will hold its first ever fundraiser in collaboration with Ocean Village. This first ever Open Day event to take place outside of the Wildlife Park will be a new experience for all. The event will begin at 11am at Ocean Village. There will be a bouncy castle, fun hoppers for younger children, refreshments, cake stall and entertainment throughout the day until 4pm. The AWCP team will be there with a small selection of the park’s inhabitants, talking with the public about responsible pet ownership. The aim of the event is to raise funds for the Alameda Overground project to create a system of tunnels allowing the animals at the AWCP more freedom than ever.

If you feel you have the time and dedication to become a long-term volunteer at the AWCP, contact the AWCP at info@awcp.gi or drop by the park and chat to the staff. For more information on upcoming events or volunteering, visit the AWCP website:

www.awcp.gi.

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Jess Leaper
Jess Leaper has managed the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park (AWCP) for over 12 years. Having completed her MSc project on the Barbary macaque, she later returned to Gibraltar and was asked to help out at the Wildlife Park. Vowing to somehow improve the enclosures of the primates there before she moved on, she managed that and much more. Now also active locally in sustainability groups and campaigns, raising awareness of Climate Change, particularly in relation to species and habitats.