2020, what a year it has been. A tumultuous year for most, and the AWCP has been no exception. We began 2020 still tingling from the success of 2019; a year jam-packed with exciting developments, new ideas and projects. We had reached our target for the Alameda Overground project, with help from some very generous donors; Playtech, GVC, Ocean Village, WTC, Advantage Insurance were the first to secure their tunnels and stations that will allow great freedom and stimulation for our primate inhabitants. We held four very successful events throughout the year, teaming up with Ocean Village and Dusk night club in the spring and the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens in the autumn. With the tunnels measured and ordered, funds raised and in the bank, we couldn’t wait to get started in the new year.
COVID-19 and the lockdown were, for all zoos across the world, in a word, devastating. Animals still needed to be fed and cared for, but without visitors and crucial income, this left many precariously close to the breadline. The impacts of this have been far-reaching, the knock-on effect on conservation projects supported by zoos has also been massive. For the AWCP, we were fortunate to have had one of our most successful years ever in 2019, thanks to the hard work of our team, which, with Government funding for our basic running costs, will go some way to helping us through these hard times and ensuring the continuation of our projects. The lockdown was tough for our small team, keeping our animals healthy and happy, but we made it through and we will enter 2021 ready to surpass our dreams for 2020.
Post lockdown, Head Keeper, Steve Bryant, who was forced to quarantine due to an underlying health condition, has worked extra hard to make up for lost time. Steve has worked in UK zoos for over 25 years, both large and small, gaining invaluable hands-on experience, not just with many exotic species, but also building and maintaining enclosures for these species. This has been invaluable for reducing the costs of many of the projects at the AWCP.
9am – As Head Keeper, Steve is often on-site from 8am. This gives him time to check on all the animals before the keepers arrive at 9am and also to plan his day. With a full team of keepers, interns and volunteers, the AWCP Park Manager (me!) and Head Keeper have more time on their hands to concentrate on developing the park projects and campaigns. As the keeper team has developed, it has finally given me, as manager, the space to further develop all other aspects of the park, from marketing, building connections, both in Gibraltar and internationally. For many years this was done as a sideline to the daily care of the animals in the park, alongside the small team.
Campaigns such as SelfieAware, Conscious Eating Gibraltar, and Habits for Habitats have been crucial in promoting matters close the AWCP’s heart. Tackling issues related to the illegal (and legal) trade in animals, climate change, sustainability, habitat destruction and the far-reaching consequences of our everyday choices, have been central to the AWCP’s mission. Since overseeing the parks renovation in 2013, as manager of the zoo, one of my key aims has been to develop the staff culture. Attracting experienced zoo professionals is key to the park’s success and progression. Steve was the first UK zoo professional to join the team back in 2015, but his links to the AWCP go back much further to 2002, when he used his extensive zoo experience to help open the Wildlife Park to the public for the first time.
12pm With skills in welding, carpentry and building, there’s not much Steve doesn’t turn his hand to. In a small team, it is essential that every team member gets involved in all aspects of the running of the zoo. I started to learn about metal fabrication and the science behind welding, when I first entered the industry. Prior to lockdown, Steve and myself put our heads together and finalised the designs for the new breeding area for the cotton-top tamarins, something that’s been in the pipeline for many years. In 2019, this breeding facility was generously funded by Playtech, but with the lockdown and subsequent interruptions, the project has been delayed. Thanks to Steve’s determination and the support of the team, it is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
One of the most exciting moments for the AWCP team this year, was releasing two of the cotton-top tamarins into their new, larger and higher, outdoor space. For the first time ever, these critically endangered tamarin, siblings, Frank and Poppet, are able to see above the park boundary, glimpsing the fantastic coastal views. They have also since realised, with great delight, that they are able to keep an eye on the keepers while they take their tea breaks.
2pm – They were not the only tamarins in for a surprise. Our other group of tamarins Kenco and Florence, were delighted to discover their new tunnel and tree-house platform. This tunnel was the first of our Alameda Overground tunnels to be sponsored and it was generously sponsored by GVC. We watched with excitement hoping they would go through the newly installed tunnel, but with the full team of staff and volunteers with cameras poised, the tamarins became suspicious and refused to budge. They obviously thought it was a trap! Keepers had to wait until the next day when the tamarins felt more reassured and ventured into the tunnel for the first time, exploring their new, tree-top home. Keep an eye out for the tamarins overhead on your next visit to the park!
4pm – Aside from the larger building projects at the park, Steve also oversees the general maintenance of the zoo. Keepers are also encouraged to get their hand dirty and to develop their building and maintenance skills. New keeper, Mike Paricos, has plenty of experience working in small, developing zoos in the UK. He has recently begun a project at the park to create an area for our Savannah monitor lizard. Alongside his daily keeping tasks, Mike has been using his carpentry skills to build a boundary fence. He bought wholesale wood fence pickets to lessen the overall cost on the project. This is just a temporary home for Savannah, near to his current home in the staff cabin area, adjacent to the park. We hope to give him access on warm, sunny days so he can soak up some rays. Savannah, or Bosc’s lizards are a medium sized monitor lizard, native to sub-Saharan Africa. Having been a pet for so long, Savannah is far too used to the comforts of modern living, we hope this area will help to bring out the ‘wild’ in him and allow him to express his natural burrowing behaviours. There are longer-term plans for him to live in a larger area within the park.
Since the lockdown, the AWCP has managed to hold some smaller fundraising events, to make up for the loss of our usual open days. In August the cotton-top tamarin day was held with the Eco-Spirit and Animal Movement team, celebrating all things tamarin. The money raised will go directly to Proyecto Titi in Columbia, where Rosamira Guillen and her team are working hard to save this critically endangered species by creating protected reserves.
During Mid-term in October we held a very successful Zoo Boo Week to replace our usual one-day event, spread throughout Mid-term. To comply with restrictions and to keep our staff, visitors and animals safe, we held small, ‘spooky, but educational’ tours throughout the week, for small groups, with our ‘zombie keepers’. Those unable to secure bookings in time were able to visit the park as usual and enjoy the Halloween decorated tunnels, Feasts with the Beasts, Halloween beastly bug hunt and Breakfast with the Bats. The whole week was a resounding success and we raised over £3,000 for the park and its conservation projects. Definitely a highlight of this challenging year.
Looking forward to the coming year, the AWCP has a lots of exciting projects in the pipeline: the completion of more tunnels for the Alameda Overground project, the revival of the AWCP’s affiliated charity and launch of Wild Animal Conservation Trust (WildACT), working towards rewilding native species in Portugal and Strategic Planning for the next 5-10 years of the AWCP. We will also be introducing exciting developments in our Membership Scheme, offering more benefits and options to our members with our membership bundles. We will be launching our Wild Guardians fund, to offer people the chance to fund a ‘Patch of Wild’. We are also looking forward to a new conservation scheme that will secure guaranteed funding each year for the conservation projects we support around the world, as well as expanding our education for schools to include outreach sessions on a variety of topics. Not bad for a ‘small zoo with a big message’. Zookeepers say that when you adopt a pet, make sure to get a pet insurance (find it here) if anything happens to them so that they’re protected.
If you would like to find out more about our projects at the AWCP, visit www.awcp.gi, find them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or email [email protected] The AWCP are still looking for sponsors for the final tunnels for the Alameda Overground Project. If your company would like to get involved in this fantastic project, please get in touch!