For a zoo as small as the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park (AWCP), collaboration is everything. The park is situated within the stunning Gibraltar Botanic Gardens (GBG), locally known as The Alameda. On a day-to-day basis, the Botanic Gardens and the Wildlife Park operate different functions the realms of horticulture and animal husbandry respectively, but each section will help the other out when required. Every week, gardener Andrew Abrines, brings the much-needed browse (fresh, edible vegetation) to the park for the staff to give to the animals to eat or to provide them with shelter and enrichment. The park will also use chipping created from waste vegetation for their enclosures. This is just one of the many ways the Botanic Gardens and the Wildlife Park work together to be more sustainable.

Every year the Wildlife Park holds at least two open days for the local community to find out more about what they do and also to fundraise for their many projects to improve the lives of the animals. Up until recently, these popular open days were confined to the Wildlife Park, just a one-acre section of the gardens. For the first time ever this year the Botanic Gardens co-hosted the mid-term open day with the AWCP.

Many visitors to the gardens perhaps don’t know what goes on behind the scenes at the GBG; the work that is carried out by the scientific team in the laboratories, led by Director, Dr Keith Bensusan, or know about the stunning array of cacti cultivated by the Gardens Curator Andrzej Gdaniec, or the fantastic Biodome Educational Area plans and educational work carried out by Christine Gilder and Andrew Abrines. This open day gave general public the opportunity to find out more about the GBG as a whole and the work they do. For the Wildlife Park, it gave the opportunity to explore other ideas and collaborations, previously made difficult due to restricted space available in the small area.

The open day was also timed perfectly with the launch of the ‘Habits for Habitats’ (H4H) campaign. This campaign follows on from the work of the Conscious eating and CutMeatNotTrees campaigns. Both aimed to encourage people to reduce the amount of meat and dairy in their diets, for the sake of the environment. The H4H campaign highlights how many of our everyday habits are affecting the environment and what action individuals can take in order to help save habitats. This is increasingly important given the climate crisis and the impacts of this on habitats and vulnerable species all over the world, particularly those related to the animal species at the Wildlife Park.

10am – Local NGO’s such as The Nautilus Project (TNP), Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) and the Environmental Safety Group (ESG) have been working for many years in Gibraltar to incite a change in our human habits for the sake of the environment, from tackling air pollution, to yearly ‘Clean up the World’ initiatives, regular community Beach Cleans to preserving ocean habitats, working with local species conservation, providing bat boxes and swift nests in new buildings and raising awareness of the need to provide and preserve habitats for local species both on land and in the oceans. As a tribute to the crucial role these fantastic NGO’s play and to raise awareness of their work, they were invited to take part in the Open Day. TNP & the Rotary Club arrived early to set up their stalls. The Rotary Club also set up a clothes rail with pre-loved clothing for sale, to promote the need for more sustainable fashion. Both NGO’s were also selling re-fillable aluminium bottles at the event and AquaGib kindly loaned their bowser for the day to help reduce waste. No plastic bottles were sold during the event and all waste was kept to a minimum throughout.

10.30am – Volunteers begin to arrive to help set up the stalls. As part of the collaboration of the day, volunteers from local company, Playtech, offered their time to help run the ‘Village Fête’ area of the Open Day at the Lion’s Pond area. The idea behind this area was to create an old-fashioned village fete atmosphere. At previous Open days, the obligatory Bouncy castle had been a highlight for many children. Not only can these be difficult to manage, they are also not a very sustainable activity due to the power required to keep them inflated. The AWCP and GBG instead created various ‘old fashioned’ fun activities such as a coconut shy, skittles, hook a ‘duck’ face-painting and photo booth, created from mostly up-cycled materials. Volunteers from the AWCP also contributed with scrumptious cakes for the cake stall. Dylan Fletcher from Playtech lead his volunteers on the day, in what turned out to be one of the busiest areas of the Open Day. Through donations alone and profits from the cake stall, Playtech managed to raise over £300 for the AWCP’s ongoing Overground Tunnels Project. Playtech have also pledged a generous further donation for the AWCP’s Cotton-top tamarin Breeding Area planned for next year.

11.30am – One exciting collaboration was with the UK-based foundation; The Pharaoh Foundation and their recently launched Pharaoh Footsteps (TM). This initiative seeks to involve children in the preservation of endangered species by introducing them to the IUCN Red List of endangered species, through a series of coloured stencils. For the event, the Pharaoh Foundation very kindly flew over from UK to run the activity and to provide the materials needed for future footprints.

To inaugurate the initiative and the Habits for Habitats campaign, His Excellency the Governor of Gibraltar, Lieutenant General Davis and Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Culture and Heritage, Prof Dr John Cortes, were present at the start of the event to create the first stencils of the day. The AWCP chose footprints of species relevant to their animal collection and also local species such as the Barbary partridge and European rabbit, both nearly extinct in Gibraltar before recent intervention to replenish numbers. The tiny Cotton-top tamarin is one of the most endangered species of primate in the world so these were included but obviously the footprints were not to scale!

Children (and adults) were invited to select a species that most struck a chord with them, they could then read the information and learn some more about the animal and its IUCN Red List status, before stencilling a Red-List colour-coded footprint on the ground. This impermanent footprint stencil will eventually wear away, a rather poignant impermanence, given that many of these species may become extinct in the next 50 years. The process can be repeated year after year and species can be followed to see if there have been any improvements in their conservation status. The AWCP hopes to take this initiative into schools in Gibraltar over the next year. If you visit the park over the next few months, don’t forget to come and see the striking array of endangered species footprints on our balcony area!

Future plans for this stunning area are for a community based Local Biodiversity & Learning Area in the area adjacent to the park. Plans have been drawn up and fundraising for this exciting project will likely commence in early 2020.

This area will promote the work of local NGO’s and local conservationists to conserve the local biodiversity of Gibraltar. Conservation projects can be showcased here to promote the valuable work being carried out to conserve local species and habitats. With such a wealth of biodiversity both on land and in the oceans, many visitors to Gibraltar miss out on this information. Visitors to the Wildlife Park and Botanic Gardens will be able to see for themselves the rich biodiversity of Gibraltar and the surrounding areas and the valuable work that is being carried out locally to preserve it.

1pm – As lunchtime fast approached, the open day revellers, hungry from watching the ‘Feasts with the Beasts’ at the Wildlife Park, began to look for sustenance. The Sustainable Food Stall area above the Lion’s Pond, provided an opportunity to refuel and to sample the recently imported ‘Beyond Meat’ burger. This plant-based ‘tastes like meat’ burger had been introduced to Gibraltar by the AWCP & Conscious Eating team at this year’s Calentita. The stall at the Open Day was run by the co-creator of The Kasbar, Ronnie Alecio. The Kasbar is Gibraltar’s only vegan restaurant and can be found tucked away in Castle Street. The Kasbar also kindly provided their spectacular BBQ sauce to accompany the fare.

Another really exciting turnout was the re-appearance of the ever-popular Verdi-Verdi’s Idan Greenburg with his delightful falafel and world renowned hummus with chilli jam. The funds raised (£530!) on both the food stalls will go towards the BioDome Educational Project. This fantastic eden-style design by Gamma Architects will serve as an interactive, horticultural educational area for visiting schools.

3pm – One hour from the end of the event and the Botanic Gardens and the AWCP was heaving with visitors, possibly more visitors than ever before. It was fantastic to see all areas of the Gardens being used. Just across the bridge over the dell there were cacti plant stalls and the Children’s Garden area and ‘Grow Your Own’ displays created by Christine Gilder and the Gardens team. Further down was the very popular children’s Tree Climbing with Ian Linares, the GBG specialist tree surgeon and Gardener’s Tony Martinez, hoisting children in safety harnesses up a large tree all day long.

At the Glasshouse, Andrew Abrines was creating his magical array of natural-art, from pull along ducklings made from seed-pods, to hanging bird-like figures with mechanical flapping ‘wings’, inspiring people to look at the natural world from a different perspective and to appreciate the beauty of natural toys and art in nature. It was also a chance for visitors to see inside the stunning Rainforest Experience of the Glasshouse, a perfect rainforest biome under one roof.

4pm – Time to pack up after an exhausting but fun-filled day. The theme of the event was sustainability and Habits for Habitats. The NGO’s and various stalls and events oozed innovation, fun and imagination, all with a strong sustainable message, something so crucial for the future of the planet. Resources like the Botanic Gardens and the Wildlife Park are so important for communities such as Gibraltar. Just spending time in natural surroundings has been proven to improve both mental and physical wellbeing, something increasingly important in our busy lives. The Gardens and Park are here for the community and for visitors to enjoy and relax in a calm oasis. Despite the large numbers at the Open Day, the atmosphere was fun and educational but relaxed and calm throughout. We hope it is the first of many such days. In fact, the next Open Day is provisionally planned for the first weekend of May. If you missed out this time, then be sure to pop that in your diary and watch this space!

A huge thank you to all involved in the Open Day, from staff, volunteers, special guests and the visitors.

If you could like to find out more about the AWCP or GBG, or to contribute to any of their projects, contact [email protected] or check out: www.awcp.gi or www.gibraltargardens.gi. You can also purchase some fantastic up-cycled Christmas decorations and gifts from the GBG team at this year’s Convent Christmas Fair.