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.
A few kilometres from Lagos in the Algarve one can find a fairly new zoo officially inaugurated by the city authorities in November 2000. Lagos Zoo is only three hectares in size but has more than a hundred species of birds, reptiles and mammals in its collection. The majority of the species are birds and primates, but there are some domestic animals in the children's zoo, as well as such usual, easily-available species as Bennett's wallaby, Indian muntjac, mara and ring-tailed coati.
The first impression is that of a carefully designed and planted little zoo. The exhibits are surrounded by beautiful stone walls and plants as well as nice fences. The numerous aviaries are in good condition with lots of plants. The general appearance seems to be a most important issue at this place - no surprise as. Most of the tourists in this region are British, a nation well known for their gardening abilities.
At the entrance some girls are waiting with parrots and cockatoos to take photographs of visitors with the birds. These pictures are sold to the visitors when leaving the park for the enormous price of €10.00 - maybe by then people have already forgotten that the entrance fee was €10.00 as well!
After some exhibits with African spurred tortoises, wallabies, muntjacs and crowned cranes there are some aviaries with interesting birds. We were surprised to see a mixed-species exhibit with great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) and giant wood-rails (Aramides ypecaha), as these owls are known to feed on chickens when they have the chance. In the next aviary a large flock of speckled pigeons (Columba guinea) with green peafowl was a beautiful sight. Mixed-species aviaries with hornbills (Bycanistes brevis and B. bucinator) and pheasants followed. The aviaries for helmeted curassow (Pauxi pauxi), white-cheeked turaco (Tauraco leucotis) and western grey plaintain-eater (Crinifer piscator) were very interesting as well.
At the Quintinha - the children's zoo - we saw a beautiful rare breed of sheep, the Algarvian churra sheep. This black-and-white sheep with its spiral horns in the male is a regional breed only found in the Algarve. Other animals kept here were llamas, dwarf zebu, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, rabbits, horses, ponies, guinea pigs, pigeons and more.
At the end of the circular route round the zoo grounds we came to an area with some islands for primates. Here two groups of gibbons live on small islands. The 1.1 siamangs with their two young had a very small and empty piece of land, whereas the island for the four lar gibbons was quite all right in size and structure. Two (1.1) lesser spot-nosed monkeys (Cercopithecus petaurista) were interesting for us, as this species is not very common in zoos. An interesting story relates to this primate area. Before we went to Lagos Zoo we had a leaflet about it dating from 2006. On the cover was a male orang-utan who was announced to be coming to Lagos Zoo soon. This male was undoubtedly Samson at Maia Zoo, who was already in 2006 supposed to be leaving that place. He never arrived at Lagos, but instead the 1.3 chimpanzees are reported to be moving to Lagos Zoo soon. The owner of Lagos Zoo showed us the site where the exhibit for the chimps was to be built. In view of the fact that the transfer was supposed to be soon, we were again surprised about the relaxed attitude the people have to building for animals. 'That will be done quickly - no problem' was the reply to our astonishment. He also showed us his additional 3-ha area opposite to the zoo where he wants to build more exhibits for hoofstock.
Other species at Lagos were European lynx, tufted capuchins, ring-tailed lemurs, squirrel monkeys together with white-fronted lemurs, common marmosets, black-and-white ruffed lemurs, porcupines and prairie dogs. Lots of waterfowl lived on the lakes, many of which were breeding between the primate islands. Two breeding species with less than a metre between the nests were pink-backed pelican (Pelecanus rufescens) and great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Marabou storks, black vultures and a small flock of lesser flamingos were exhibited, as well as green-winged and blue-and-yellow macaws which unfortunately had clipped wings and could only climb in the trees between the visitors.
We were favourably impressed by the clever animal sign system. Laminated paper cards were available in small baskets at the exhibit. On both sides the visitor could find information about the animals in either Portuguese or English. These plastic cards are cheap and easily replaceable.