Friday, 14 February 2020 10:16

We've managed to reduce the conservation threat status of ten species on the red list

The name of Loro Parque is becoming more and more known in the world and the foundation seems to have contributed to this on the basis of its work to preserve the environment and parrots in different regions of the planet. Its director, Javier Almunia, received Turismo de Tenerife (TdT) in the facilities of the extensive enclosure of Puerto de la Cruz and revealed some of the keys to success of the entity he manages.

Question: What is the role of the Foundation?

Answer: It was founded in 1994 specifically to deal with all those aspects related to biodiversity conservation, environmental education, research, rescue or animal welfare, which are elements that a modern zoo has to count on to carry out its work strategy.

Q: It does not have any other promotional, charitable or social role?

A: Our involvement is one hundred percent environmental. Of all the money that Loro Parque receives each year, between two and a half and three million euros approximately, one million goes directly to conservation actions around the world, an amount that this year almost doubles because we celebrate our 25th anniversary. On the other hand, in addition to our usual projects for the conservation of parrots, cetaceans, turtles or sharks, we are working with the Canary Islands Government on a four-year plan related to climate change in the sea, ocean acidification and care for the most threatened species in the Canary Islands and Macaronesia in which we are going to invest 500,000 euros this year. We are also in the process of buying land in Bolivia to establish a conservation reserve for a highly endangered species of macaw. With all this, we are going to reach almost that amount of two million dollars. This is really the fundamental impact that the Foundation has on society, specifically through the financing of environmental projects, to which we can add all the educational and awareness-raising work, both in the Park itself and in educational centers or in activities on the beach, with waste collection, etc. Finally, there are the scientific research activities because we serve as a support for an international network of universities and centers that use our animals to increase knowledge and to be able to contribute better to the preservation of the species.

Q: How many countries are you present in?

A: This year 2020 we are developing about 47 projects in 25 countries, although during our existence we have worked with more than 180 projects in about 35 countries. We almost always work in places where parrots are naturally found, which are the equatorial areas of the planet, such as central and southern America and tropical Africa and Asia, as well as the Philippines, southern Australia and New Caledonia; exotic places with highly biodiverse tropical ecosystems that we try to preserve through parrots.

Q: How are the processes established and developed?

A: We have a group of experts, mainly specialists in the preservation and conservation of birds, who meet once a year and decide on the distribution of available funds. We then contact national governments, such as that of Brazil, with whom we work on the reproduction of a highly endangered species of macaw that we have bred in the Park and later returned to its environment to be released. We also maintain relations with multilateral organizations dedicated to monitoring illegal trafficking and controlling border crossings.

 Q: ¿ Could we consider the Foundation itself as a multinational organization?

A: Yes, of course. Loro Parque Fundación is an international organization and in fact we are well known and recognized abroad as the most important institution in terms of parrot conservation worldwide. There is no other entity that finances more projects and has achieved our successes. We have managed to reduce the threat status of ten species that are on the red list and have also significantly increased the population of other species.

Q: Without doubt, great success

A: Absolute positive achievements that are really the goal of organizations like ours. Reducing the threat status of a species is the greatest success you can have and is sometimes achieved by working more than 15 years on a single project. We have invested almost two million dollars in some of them throughout their development, because conservation is a slow, long-term work of raising public awareness and creating sustainable development alternatives. It's not just reaching out and protecting the parrot and that's it, but working with local communities because often it's their own way of life that may be affecting the environment. It is therefore necessary to offer them sustainable living alternatives to reduce their impact on nature as much as possible.

Q: Does tourism fit in as a sustainable solution for these communities?

A: Yes, in some cases, but not in all, because the problems of parrots are very diverse. There are places where we work with local communities to make them proud of their species, and not only emotionally, but also financially. Many times we propose the creation of related handicrafts, such as carvings, figures or things like that, so that they see that there is an economic aspect to it and try to maintain that species because it will provide them in the long term with a resource that will allow them to live in a sustainable way.

 Q: You travel a lot, then.

A: No, not much. We work from here and do not have our own staff in these places because we prefer to cooperate with local organizations. It is not popular anymore to send great experts from Europe to Brazil, Bolivia or Ecuador to tell the natives what they have to do. Now there is trained staff in those countries, biologists, researchers, veterinarians, and it is the local people themselves who take care of their resources. The aim is to generate knowledge and experience in biodiversity conservation in the country itself through funding from local NGOs. And that is what we do.

Q: In return, that will require a lot of paperwork.

A: Absolutely. A lot of paperwork specially to monitor how our money is being spent. Every dollar and every euro need to be closely monitored so that our investments are actually used for nature conservation. There is also a lot of paperwork for the movement of animals, such as reintroduction, which requires a lot of administrative documentation, for the transport of endangered species across borders and for specimens that are to be released, because it is necessary to comply with a number of requirements from international organizations in order to not cause damage to the natural environment.

 Q: Tell us a milestone you are particularly proud of.

A: We're very proud of those ten rescued species you were talking about. For us it is the figurehead of our organization and is the demonstration that an NGO linked to a project can have an important influence on improving nature conservation.

Q: They were all from the same territory?

A: No, they're from very different territories. In fact, we have a rosette shaped chart with the photos of each of the ten species. Mind you, they're almost all from Central and South America.

Q: What challenge is coming up?

A: From the beginning, one of Mr. Kiessling's challenges when he created the Foundation was to establish a sanctuary, a protection area, for cetaceans in Macaronesia. We are working on this, but it is very complex to bring three different countries into political agreement in international waters. In the meantime, we are laying the scientific and technical foundations for establishing this collaboration, which is growing between the Macaronesian archipelagos, on the basis of scientific justifications in the sense that all the cetaceans that are there move freely between the Canary Islands, Madeira and Cape Verde. This is an open area that is necessary for the maintenance and survival of these animals.

Q: However, in the Canary Islands we are lucky to have our own cetaceans, right?

A: Yes, absolutely. The Canary Islands are a privileged place in terms of biodiversity, among other things, because we can see in the Islands 80 percent of all the cetaceans that live in the North Atlantic. The archipelago is like an oasis to which these migratory animals are associated, and it also has resident populations because we are an area of biological wealth in the middle of the ocean.

Q: How concerned and engaged is the institution with climate change?

A: It is essential to deal with it and in fact we have this project with the Government of the Canary Islands, called CanBIO, which focuses on the phenomenon. The project will last four years, started in 2019 and consists of the construction of a network to measure water temperatures, ocean acidification, which is linked to the C02 of the atmosphere, and underwater noise, with the use of buoys, platforms of opportunity in conventional ships and mini-submarines. Marine noise is also one of the emerging problems due to the impressive growth of maritime traffic. CanBIO also includes a section dedicated to endangered species, such as the angelfish and the butterfly ray, a shark and a ray that live in the Canary Islands and have their last stronghold here, or sea turtles in Fuerteventura, which we follow with drones to see if they are returning to lay their eggs in a project shared with the Cape Verde Islands.

Q: What does Turismo de Tenerife mean for the Foundation's activity?

A: Although Turismo de Tenerife is above all closely linked to the commercial part of Loro Parque, it serves us as a visibility tool to attract the interest of international media with its journalistic trips. It is an extraordinary way to make the Foundation's work known, given that the specialized tourism press would perhaps not notice that there is a nature conservation organization and direct activities concerning the species in Tenerife and the Canary Islands. It represents a showcase to project ourselves abroad and, of course, for Loro Parque it includes other aspects such as participation in fairs and other international events.