Source: Tribuna de Tenerife
This year you will be quite pleased to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Loro Parque Fundación. What has the creation of the foundation meant for you and your family?
First of all, when I came up with the idea, I proposed to the financial director to give the whole parrot collection to a foundation and he told me that it was not possible because it was an important part of Loro Parque’s heritage. I insisted and, in the end, we have done it. Internally there were some critical voices, but externally there was enough recognition. The idea came from the Secretary General of CITES and the truth is that I thought it was a good idea. It is not the property that interests me, it was more important to keep the animals under the care of Loro Parque but returning them to humanity. An important step was that Loro Parque had to commit to cover all the costs of the Loro Parque Fundación, which makes all the money that goes into the Foundation go 100% to nature. Today, the Foundation owns the largest collection of parrots and thus ensures a very important genetic reserve, both for the Loro Parque Fundación and for the world. After 25 years, at no time have I regretted having created the Foundation.
What did Morgan mean to you?
First satisfaction, because we were able to save the life of an animal that had three possibilities. The first was to return it to the sea, which would have been its death; the second would have been euthanasia and the third was the possibility of coming here to live with the other 5 orcas that we had at that time in our pools. With Morgan’s arrival there were many critics, because they are not seeing the difficulties, she had in returning to the sea. They did not accept that Morgan was a sick animal, they believe that we are liars saying that she is deaf, but that has been clarified and demonstrated. I do not believe that it will be questioned any more. I frankly believe that if I didn’t lack something it was this movement, but with the peace of mind that Morgan is doing well, now she is breastfeeding a perfectly born baby called Ula. The mother gets along well with her baby. These are experiments that could not have been done without them being in our facilities.
The creation of the Foundation has been a challenge for you and your family because of two fundamental issues. One is the fact that all the parrots in the Loro Parque belong to the Foundation and the other that you are investing more than 20 million dollars in environmental projects. There are always some “isolated” groups that criticize the work of the Loro Parque, although it has been proven that you invest millions in conservation and in helping the animals…
I want to clarify something, the giving of the parrots that I mentioned before was not the only gift we gave away. First of all, we bought a 3-hectare farm and the farm was given to the foundation. Then the biggest gift has been that for the deposit of a pair of each species we have in the collection, the Loro Parque paid all the costs of the foundation, this leads to about 2.5 million euros per year. This means that our foundation spends at least 3.5 million euros per year, of which those 2.5 million are paid by the Loro Parque. As for the “isolated” groups, I think their criticism is the most idiotic thing that exists. In the year 1950 we had 2.5 billion people on the globe, in 50 years we have multiplied to 6 billion. These millions of people on earth are using the natural resources, which were available to exotic animals, and so we are destroying this planet with impressive speed. That represents the current population of 1.8 billion people, we have grown in 19 years 180 cities like London with all that it implies. There is a collapse and we no longer know where the world is going. In this time when animals are under such terrible treatment, there are some activists, who think they know something, who are not professionals, without being specialists in the profession, who dare to tell us that our facilities, that are at a very high scientific level, are bad for animals. An animal is completely satisfied within a small space, with enough food and well cared for, while the land they need in nature is such spacious because of the need to hunt down food to survive. Apart from this, I would like to clarify that nowadays, living in the wild is more difficult for the animals. Let us think, for example, of the fires in the Amazon at the moment or the fires in the forests next to Sydney. Don’t you think it is a tragedy that millions of animals die in the flames? They don’t have that problem with us, they have less space, but more safety and food. For example, in the case of the lions, the person in charge of the Born Free Foundation has assured us that they are better off in our facilities than in Ethiopia, because here they are well cared for and fed. They demand that we free our orcas and our dolphins. Our animals are happy here and we comply with the law, we allow the cetaceans to reproduce and breed and we also do research.
At present, zoos, especially the most important ones in the world, are making an important commitment to the recovery of species. What is Loro Parque doing in favour of the recovery and protection of species?
With the Foundation we are helping researchers from all over the world, funding the projects they have. This is very important and, in the beginning, it was only done with the parrots, because in the beginning the Loro Parque was only for parrots. Later, with the arrival of the cetaceans, we have expanded our projects on orcas and dolphins. In 1988 Loro Parque financed research on cetaceans on the island, when the presence of sperm whales was confirmed. We are also funding research on lions in Africa, also in Ethiopia, and many things that are no longer just about parrots. We have saved 9 species of parrots that, without our help, would no longer exist and we are very proud. Our work has borne much fruit. We have done it in silence, without publicity campaigns to achieve what we wanted, which is to help nature. I am also very happy because I am helping the dog shelters on the island, such as the Tierra Blanca shelter, or the Punta Brava shelter and also one in El Sauzal, collaborating a lot with them. However, there are activists who have shelters in America and are paid, it seems, for each animal they collect but most die within forty-eight hours. On the contrary, the shelters we have on the island are run by volunteers and the politicians do not help, they are not aware of it. The volunteers do an enormous job and the politicians should take care of them and help them.
You have also proposed that the foundation should develop activities in all areas of nature and also of the oceans. What work are you currently developing in the field of marine research?
We have a project that we are financing in the Strait of Gibraltar, with great success. We have made a surveillance of the movement of the animals and this resulted in the conclusion that the animals do not swim 100 miles as the activists say. We have seen that they swim from 6 to 8 miles a day because in this area they find their food. If one day the food has run out they do travel a little more, but this is the reason, they do not travel for the pleasure of moving, just to survive. Next, we have CanBio. I would like to thank the Government of the Canary Islands and the two universities of the Canary Islands. It is a climate change project, cleaning up the sea, cleaning up marine noise. We are financing all of this with EUR 1 million from us and EUR 1 million come from the Canary Islands Government. All exotic animals are under enormous pressure. A hundred years ago there were 10 million elephants in the world, today there are less than 400 000. If we carry on like this, they will have disappeared in 30 or 40 years. If we do not keep some in parks or zoos, there will be no specimen left.
The Loro Parque Group is very involved in the elimination of plastics and micro-plastics. What actions do you carry out in this area?
Before we considered this, I was not aware of how difficult it was to eradicate plastic. If you look around you, everything is made of plastic. It is impossible to eliminate plastic from one day to the next. This is an initiative that must come from the industry, they must find a product that is similar to plastic but that is compostable. We have eliminated single use plastic from all our parks, in Poema del Mar we make big promotion of this. We have also recently been given permission to fill one of the fish tanks in our Loro Parque aquarium with plastic. So far, I have banned all human intervention in our aquariums because I want visitors to see the fish as if they were in the sea, but I have made an exception for a week to see the reaction of our visitors. Also, I had the idea of using plastic to create sculptures. I am a fan of the art of Néstor Martín-Fernández de la Torre, the great painter of the Canary Islands, and we have given orders to build some plastic sculptures inspired by the work of this wonderful artist. In addition, this plastic has come out of the cleaning activities on the beaches that we have done with children and we have also worked with the children to create these sculptures. As a result, we have inaugurated the first sculpture at the University of La Laguna. We want to warn of the dangers of plastic and make it clear that it can be used for other things that do not harm, such as art.
Recently, at the ceremony of the Premio Gorila award, you said that the world is on fire. What did you mean by this expression?
I wanted to warn of the great explosion that humanity is having, the population has increased at a tremendous pace in the last fifty years. If we continue with this pace and reach the year 2050 there will not be a single tree, nor a sea with food inside, this is what I mean by the expression that the world is on fire. Besides, the forest fires in Brazil are not even as big as the ones that are happening in Africa. There, and without anyone talking about them, very large forests are burning, and in Australia too. In the first 4,000 hectares, 350 koalas have been burned, this is half of the population of the park. There are many animals that die every day from the fires. We are destroying the planet.
Changing the subject a little, what have been the results for the Loro Parque Group in this year 2019?
We are doing well, the visits to the Loro Parque are still in line. The Poema del Mar, which has been the one that has worried us the most, we are bringing it to a good end too. We have a staff that is working very well and is going in the right direction, we have sent nine sharks born in the Loro Parque to Poema del Mar and it is a marvel. Also, Siam Park is doing especially well. The Hotel Botánico could have a little more guest but everyone is suffering from Thomas Cook’s bankruptcy.
I suppose it will be a great satisfaction for you that the Loro Parque is recognized as one of the best zoos in the world, right?
I am very satisfied but I was surprised that last year, Tripadvisor recognized us as the best park in the world and this year has declared that it will not assess zoos, it has not maintained the category of awards. This is inexplicable but I have written a rather serious letter to those responsible, in fact, I have assured that Siam Park will reject future valuations if it does not rectify. I do not think it is reliable that we have been declared the best in the world and the following year the category was removed. However, Siam Park has received all kinds of awards… Of course, we have just received, for the eighth time, the award for the best park in Europe.
You have a pending issue with Gran Canaria and Siam Park… How’s it going?
A civil servant has insisted that I owe fourteen million, and this has caused me a lot of damage because according to the deeds I owe a maximum of three million, and this should be paid off once the channel is finished. However, the channel is still missing eighty meters which has not been done because there are illegal sewage pipes which have to be moved. I agreed to fix these pipes at a cost of EUR 240 000, but the town council is not satisfied with this and they wanted me to finance Canaragua, for pipes that pass in front of the park, which I refused to do. This would be more than 500,000 and I refuse, I do not need a park in Gran Canaria to live and neither does my family. We have some parks in Tenerife that work wonderfully and we have taken the profits from here to invest them in Gran Canaria, for example, in the Aquarium, where we are fighting like lions to reach our goals.
What projects does the Loro Parque Group and the Kiessling family have in the medium term?
We want to free Punta Brava from its parking problem. Especially in summer there are so many visitors who want to come to the Loro Parque that the cars practically paralyze the traffic. That is why I want to extend the underground car park, more than twice the size it is now. We have been fighting with the authorities over details for five years and it looks like we will soon receive the permit. In the Loro Parque I want to remove the screen from the Naturavisión cinema, and put in AquaViva, the cylinders I want to put underneath and make something even nicer than we have today. Also, where AquaViva is, I want to break it down and put in a pool for the orcas, of about 6,000 cubic meters of water. We have bought the properties above and to the left of the Loro Parque and are planting all the trees and plants we need. We have our own organic vegetable farm and all the parks, the hotel and Brunelli’s work with these products. We have bought the Exit palace, next to Siam Park to put some underground parking lots and on top of them we want to build a big spa that is connected with Siam Park. Also, we want to build a Brunelli’s in the city. We are also setting up the second largest windmill in the Canary Islands. We have many projects.