The welfare of the animals at the AWCP is of the upmost importance. Our primary aim is to ensure the animals in our care are thriving. Contrary to popular belief, most zoos don’t want to see animals in captivity, but in many cases it is an increasingly important part of conserving species in the wild. Many extinctions have been evaded over the years through captive breeding in zoos and the skills learned through years of captive care for a variety of species will prove vital in the years to come, as habitats are destroyed the world over and many species are on the brink of extinction. The recent fires in important forests and habitats throughout the world have shown that for some species, time may be limited and a species’ conservation status can change almost overnight. Koalas were listed as ‘Vulnerable’ before last year, but now are most probably ‘Endangered’ or more devastatingly, ‘Functionally Extinct’ due to the fires in Australia.
Many of the species at the AWCP have been rescued from the illegal (or legal) pet trade or from a probable life in a laboratory or worse; the majority of these species cannot be returned to the wild. The AWCP is working on projects and campaigns to increase awareness of the need to preserve and reinstate habitats all over the world. This year, through the ‘Habits for Habitats’ campaign, launched last year, the AWCP and GBG will be working with local schools to help do just that. The Just One Tree initiative was created in the UK but works all over the world to plant trees and reforest areas. On the 14th of February this year, schools in Gibraltar will be holding a ‘Green Uniform Day’. Students will donate £1 towards tree planting in important areas, not only throughout the world but also here in Gibraltar. There is now a local initiative, ‘TREE for LIFE’, that aims to plant trees throughout Gibraltar. Each school will also have the chance to choose and plant a tree in Gibraltar too.
If animals must be in captivity, we have a duty to provide the most stimulating and enriching and natural environment that we can, something the AWCP takes very seriously. Since joining the British & Irish Association of Zoos & Aquaria (BIAZA) in 2016, the AWCP staff have attended many workshops and conferences in UK zoos and Europe. One recent development within the Association of Zoos & Aquaria is the development of a formalised Welfare Assessment that can be utilised by zoos to more formally assess the welfare of their animals. This tool can be useful in highlighting any welfare concerns within the collection. All zoos in the association also comply with a strict set of regulations and undergo regular inspections but it is always possible for some welfare issues to go under the radar so this Welfare Assessment will be invaluable, especially for lager zoos with many species.
The AWCP vet student, Margarida Plácido has been at the AWCP since July last year. Most interns or work experience students will complete a research study or project during their time at the AWCP. Margarida has taken on a project on the overall management of the AWCP from the bottom up. A zoo vet would be required to have an understanding of every level of the zoo, in order to assess the general welfare of the animals. Zoo vets also assist with general husbandry guidelines, diets and enclosure design in order to help the zoo to reach the highest standard of care for the animals.
9am – Margarida has been primarily helping out with the day to day husbandry of the small primates, the Cotton-top tamarins, Common marmosets and the Brown and Ring-tailed lemurs. This helps her to gain essential practical skills for captive care of animals but also helps the AWCP with its day-to-day running. As well as the basic care and husbandry, Margarida has helped to expand the enrichment and animal training programs too, in order to make the lives of the animals more interesting and also more natural. Animals in the wild spend much of their daily time budget searching and foraging for food, enrichment devices are designed to make the animals work harder for their food and staves off boredom.
11am – New Primate Keeper, Nicola Campbell has been working with Margarida to expand the training repertoire for the primates, working with them to ensure all animals are easily stationed for weighing every week, some individuals are very compliant, but others take a little persuasion and a lot of patience!
Nicola has worked in zoos in New Zealand, she has also spent time in Peru, carrying out data collection with wild South American primates. She also has a strong background in zoo management education and will be helping to further develop the AWCP’s Education programme over the next few months.
2pm – Throughout her time at the park, Margarida has been diligently working on carrying out Welfare Assessments for every animal in the zoo. These will also be carried out by two more staff or volunteers in the coming months to gain a fair perspective on any issues raised. The assessments will be vital in helping with future planning for the AWCP and the care of its inhabitants.
The AWCP at the New Year headcount had 139 animals and 60 species (not including feeder bugs, but even these have rights!). Over the years, the management of the park has kept a close eye on any welfare concerns at the Park, most issues have been mild and easily dealt with. With just one-acre, concern has always been the lack of space at the AWCP, but clever design of enclosures, lots of enrichment and apparatus to stimulate the inhabitants can make up some of the deficit and all enclosures are within current guidelines for each species. The exciting tunnel project (taking place this year thanks to generous funding from GVC, Ocean Village, Playtech and The World Trade Centre) will also provide extra stimulation and opportunities for the majority of primates at the park.
One area of welfare concern for the staff at the Wildlife Park has always been the three female Barbary macaques. These macaques were brought to the AWCP in 2009 as temporary holding before they were to be re-homed to another zoo. Their current enclosure was not designed for this species and is the only enclosure that falls short of guidelines regarding size for the species. With free-ranging macaques just on the Upper Rock, it is not ideal to have this species in a smaller enclosure. Sadly, these females cannot be returned to the Upper Rock. Females live out their lives within their family groups and rarely integrate into another group. The AWCP has plans drawn up for a much larger and open enclosure adjacent to the park, but desperately requires funding to help make this a reality for these macaques. As an Endangered species in the wild and as flagship species for the park and for Gibraltar, it really is imperative that their welfare be considered a priority.
Over the years, the AWCP has also become a popular tourist destination, maintaining its position as #2 of Things to do in Gibraltar on TripAdvisor for the second year running, at times reaching #1! This high rating is generally credited to the excellent care given to the animals by dedicated and friendly staff and volunteers. High standards in animal care are core ethics for the park and take precedence over all other aspects, this takes time and money (and a lot of creativity) on the part of the Keepers and Managers.
If you would like to find out more about the AWCP and its projects, please visit www.awcp.gi. If you would like to volunteer or find out how to donate, please contact us at [email protected]