Our monthly spotlight on the superstars at the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park… and their keepers!

The Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park has been around since 1994, but it was first opened to the public in 2003 with Steve Bryant, manager at that time, at the helm. Steve had come to Gibraltar in search of the infamous Barbary macaques, but found more than he bargained for when he stumbled across the small collection of animals within the Alameda Botanic Gardens. He had approached the Director of the Alameda Gardens at that time, Professor John Cortes, to discuss the Barbary macaques but ended up visiting the Wildlife Park too. Steve has worked in well-known zoos for most of his life, and at that time was working in Shaldon Zoo in the UK, a small specialist exotics collection in Devon. His first impression of the Alameda Wildlife Park was a mixture of awe and dismay. Dismay at the awful reality of the illegal pet trade and animal trafficking that lead to the confiscation of most of these animals now at the Wildlife Park. It was obvious the animals were well loved and local volunteers from GOHNS (Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society) had worked tirelessly to create enclosures to house these animals with the funding they were given. Steve saw the potential for more and took the leap of faith to leave the UK behind in order to invest some of his time in this small but vibrant little park.

After a few discussions with the Director on strategies for moving forward, using his contacts in UK, Steve managed to persuade a team from ZSL to visit on a working holiday in 2002 to help revive and build on the work already carried out by volunteers at the park. A year later the dream became a reality and the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park was opened to the public.

After two years as the Park Manager, Steve was forced to leave Gibraltar in 2005 due to personal reasons, but vowed to keep in touch and to return one day.

Over the years, Steve has kept his promise and has since been back to help out and has been part of the Steering Committee of the Zoo for the past 4 years, also helping the AWCP to attain its BIAZA (British & Irish Association of Zoos & Aquaria) accreditation last year. Fourteen years later, he is now back as a permanent member of the team.

At this stage in the development of the AWCP, Steve’s knowledge and vast experience of an array of species, not to mention his practical and maintenance skills, is invaluable. Part of his remit will be to use his skills to help drive the progress of the Strategic Plan for the zoo even further, helping to improve the habitats and spaces for the animals. He has also been set the task to help develop the reptile section of the park which has been one of the smaller sections of the park but has some increasingly tricky residents, requiring specialist knowledge and handling.

   9:00 am – As this is a relatively late start-time for a zoo keeper, Steve is often in the park and stuck into his tasks well before the clock strikes nine. After an initial catch up with Steve Perry, the senior keeper of the park, the first task is to check the reptile section – mainly the snakes and the reptiles in the tunnel area. Most days there will be list of maintenance tasks to work through, from fixing barriers to sealing up leaks and checking electrics; especially important for reptiles during the winter months. Reptiles are more often than not from warm climates, and therefore require a source of heat that adequately replicates the suns UV rays, along with a good base ambient heat and the correct humidity for the species. This is something many novice pet owners tend to get wrong. All of the reptiles at the park are ex-pets; some of them became unmanageable for the owners. For this reason the wildlife park urges people to think twice before taking on a reptile as a pet. It is an expensive and sometimes complicated undertaking, and more often than not, the animal quietly suffers inadequate care and sickness is often not spotted until it’s too late.

12:00pm – After all the checks are complete, all the reptiles will be fed their specialist diets with particular attention paid to supplements, especially calcium, which is vital for the metabolic health of most reptiles. It is also time to prepare the snake food for the afternoon. There are currently five snakes at the AWCP, ranging from small corn snakes just over a metre long, to an albino Burmese Python (Duke) who has grown to an impressive 10 feet! Working with large snakes like this requires strict protocols. For the larger snakes, a minimum of two trained keepers must be present whilst working in the enclosure. Currently, Duke’s enclosure is only safe to enter whilst he has a very large rat to feed on. Steve’s experience in numerous larger zoo collections lends itself to this task. Steve reveals: “Having worked with a wide variety of exotic species, including great apes, large hoofstock, and an 18-foot reticulated python, Duke still represents a challenge if not properly managed. With the correct protocols in place, most dangerous animals can be managed in captivity.”

2:00pm – Time to prepare the snake feeds. On most occasions, the snakes will all take their feed- rats or mice (delivered frozen by Roller pet shop every month). “The main reason a snake will refuse to feed on a feeding schedule is because they are about to shed their skin. However, it could be due to incorrect environmental factors, or even illness.” Before a snake sheds its skin, the eyes will become milky and the snake will not move around so much. A smaller snake will shed a complete skin every few weeks, larger snakes, two to four times a year.

Once the rats are defrosted and warmed to body temperature they can be offered to the snakes. Whilst they are feeding, the enclosure can be cleaned and maintained. It is important not to disturb or move the snakes during or just after feeding, as they are prone to regurgitate if stressed. This would help the snake to escape danger in the wild if disturbed during a feeding session. Snakes can manage to swallow prey much larger than their jaw, they do so by dislocating the jaw bone temporarily to allow the mass to pass through. This can leave them vulnerable to predators as the digestive process can be quite prolonged.

3:00pm – Once all the reptiles are taken care of, it is time to resume maintenance tasks. Given the time of year, this is often securing and sealing enclosures to prevent water ingress and also the important job of providing shelter and warmth for the animals over the winter months.

Steve is also involved with collection planning for the AWCP. The Wildlife Park will, over time, look to take on other endangered or other important species to further its conservation education message. “Amphibians are in desperate trouble the world over, for a variety of reasons. Like many species, habitat loss has been devastating for these animals,” states Steve. The AWCP is planning an amphibian display in the near future. One of the primary roles of the AWCP over the years has been Conservation Education; raising awareness of the plight of endangered species around the world and inspiring others to care for the world in which we live.

Sponsoring an animal at the AWCP is a fantastic way to help this worthy cause and makes a perfect gift for Christmas! For just £30 you will receive an adoption certificate, a cuddly toy (or aluminium water bottle), a magnet, a photo and info sheet all in our charity tote bag! For more information on this and the work of the AWCP, visit www.awcp.gi.

 

BY JESS LEAPER