In April 2007 Olaf Paterok and myself took a ten-day tour to see the most important and interesting zoological collections in Portugal and to visit the new Omega Parque in the south of Portugal, which unfortunately has announced that it is to be closed very soon. During our tour we learned that we were lucky to see a number of other collections which are on the point of changing their appearance or closing. So it was the right time to do a survey and get an impression of the current situation of zoos, zoo design and wild animal husbandry in Portugal.
Europaradise is a medium-sized park (c. 15-20 ha) in a natural setting opened on 8th August 1998. The site is about 30 km west of Coimbra in the direction of the sea. The entrance fee in 2007 was €10.00. Unfortunately Europaradise is anything but a paradise. The dilapidated entrance with a sign 'We are open' already gave us a suspicious feeling about the quality of this collection. In fact we were probably the only visitors on that day. The cages for primates and birds are made of the cheapest materials and look very run-down, but the most disgusting thing was the fact that many of the mammal species and some birds as well are kept as single specimens.
The first small cage we saw was inhabited by a single very poor little squirrel monkey with shabby fur. He was followed by a single male eclectus parrot. Visiting the zoo in the afternoon at about two o'clock we were surprised by the number of large rats running around in all the cages – no wonder, in view of the poor housing for the animals. No cage has any heating, let alone an artificial floor. Providing a warm, wind-proof shelter and a dry and clean floor for the animals doesn't seem to be an important issue for the people running this zoo. One should not forget that there are months of cold weather in Portugal, especially in an area that close to the sea. The principle of Europaradise is a walk in the forest with small wooden huts for the display of animals being sited in the bushes right and left of the main walk. There is only one circular route around the park which leads to all the exhibits.
In the first part the primates are exhibited in two rows of cages. Rarities like white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus l. leucogenys), Müller's gibbon (Hylobates muelleri), grey-cheeked mangabey (Lophocebus albigena), moustached guenon (Cercopithecus cephus), another guenon that was probably a Sykes's monkey (C. albogularis), and a vervet monkey (Chlorocebus aethiops) of a subspecies we could not identify (named on a sign as 'blue-testicled monkey') were on display, but as usual in this park only single specimens – mostly males. (We later learned from zoo personnel that the white-cheeked gibbon was obtained from Zoo Lourosa some years ago.) The next exhibit was the Paraiso dos Tigres ('Tiger Paradise'), a simple rectangular high-fenced enclosure with one hybrid tiger. A row of parrot cages and a typical roundhouse for pheasants came after that. Examining this roundhouse a bit more closely, we found that there were no indoor cages – the central hut only had small doors to all the enclosures.
Having come halfway, we reached a small lake where we realized that this south end of the zoo was sited right by the motorway. All kinds of waterfowl were living on this lake. Right in front of the water were four small islands for red and black-and-white ruffed lemurs as well as some capuchins (Cebus apella).
The second half of the zoo was completely different. Some paddocks gave the impression that here we would find hoofstock. A strange high wooden barn caught our eyes, and we asked someone feeding the goats about the purpose of this building. The explanation was as we had expected – they were waiting for giraffes which were supposed to arrive soon. We thought it was most likely that they would get a single giraffe, not more. A single Grant's zebra, a single eland, a single scimitarhorned oryx, a single pelican, a single capybara, Walliser or Valais goats and red deer were the inhabitants of this part of the zoo. The red deer were very interesting, as they were of the Iberian subspecies Cervus elaphus hispanicus. A pair of single-wattled cassowaries were very active and followed us along the fence to get some attention. Whereas the first part of this collection was sited right in a dense and green forest of old oak trees and bushes, the second part consisted of pine trees and was much less dense – two very different habitats, as it seemed.
When we counted from our notes the number of species visible to the public, we came to 13 species of primate, c. 50-55 species of bird, one species of tortoise and about 20 species of mammal other than primates. Another issue concerning us was the fact that many species were wrongly labelled. A so-called Macaca irus was really a Cercopithecus mitis, a Hylobates hoolock was a H. muelleri, Cercocebus fuliginosus was really Lophocebus albigena, and the highlight was a Taurotragus oryx derbianus which was nothing but a normal female eland.
To say some conclusive words about this animal collection is not very difficult. In view of the dreadful housing and the state of many animals' health, with injuries, bad fur and running noses, one would like to ask the Portuguese authorities to take a closer look at this zoo. Although they are not members of any national or international zoo association, these people have a lot of animals on their site which have come from other Portuguese or European collections. And this might lead to a discussion about the responsibility of zoos and their 'tradition' of using animal dealers, with the implication that they do not care about the future destiny of the animals they dispose of.