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.
Directly on the Algarve coast road 125, about 15 km west of Faro, is the Zoomarine dolphin show. This marine-life theme park was opened in September 1991 on the same site. A lot of things have changed since then. A sea lion show arena with some pools around was built in 1998. This has eleven small pools with underwater viewing for the visitors. Here we saw four types of pinnipeds with more than 25 individuals - common (harbour) seal, grey seal, California sea lion and South African fur seal. A large tent with pools inside has been built for a 'meet the dolphin' event, as well as a giant wheel, some show areas, more swimming pools for people and many more installations for visitor conveniences. The latest addition to the park was a new main entrance area with a gift shop easily visible from the road. The entrance fee was the most expensive on the whole trip - €21.50.
Zoomarine is a typical tourist area theme park. Animals are mainly used for show purposes - today commonly described as 'edutainement'. Five show arenas on the site demonstrate a great emphasis on entertainment. Parrot, bird of prey, dolphin, sea lion and an 'enchanted forest' show are only some of the events people can enjoy when visiting this park. We were surprised to find that some parts, such as the aquarium, are closed during lunch time. Zoomarine being an EAZA member, the management bought a captive-born male manatee from Singapore Zoo in 2006. This young animal was put in one of the pools around the sea lion theatre. The manatee obviously did not like it too much and developed some sever illnesses and skin problems. A quick decision was made to save him and he was put in a pool inside the aquarium where he now lives.
Zoomarine scientists claim to have the oldest bottle-nosed dolphin in captivity, a male who arrived from Ibiza with some more specimens on the opening day in October 1991 and is said to be more than 40 years old. Since October 1991 some births of bottle-nosed dolphins have taken place at Zoomarine. Opposite to the birds of prey a building with some small pools attracted our attention. Here we found some little sea turtles of different species who are being cared for before their eventual release back into the sea. An information board explained about some European otters, two hooded seals (Cystophora cristata) and more sea turtles which had been rescued and cared for at Zoomarine. This proves that the zoo is not focused solely on financial success but also on the welfare and preservation of native marine life. The sanctuary on the zoo grounds seems to be in good shape and surely costs a lot of money.
After seeing the manatee in the aquarium, where also two very large sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) were displayed in a medium-sized tank, we took a ride on the giant wheel to get a good survey of the whole site. More animals like flamingos, waterfowl and some reptile species, mainly crocodiles and alligators, were exhibited around the rides. On the periphery of the park more swimming pools and slides were under construction. Zoomarine is currently working on an improvement of the solitary manatee's situation, as a park official explained to us. But the real highlight during our visit was a wild male hoopoe looking for invertebrates on the lawn of the bird of prey show. We were lucky to watch this rare animal for some 30 minutes or longer.