a guided tour of loro parque


oro Parque is THE Mecca for parrot enthu-

L siasts. There simply is no competition. With 350 species and sub-species, it exhibits the world's most comprehensive parrot collection in a setting unrivalled for interest and beauty in an island with the same qualities. Tenerife in the Canary Islands (off the coast of West Africa) has the perfect climate for keeping parrots outdoors. As long ago as the second century BC, the Greek philosopher Plutarch identified the Canary Islands as the mythical "Fortunate Islands" on account of the wonderful climate. This attracts the millions of tourists necessary to maintain a park of this size. Between 1972 and September 2004, 30 million people visited Laro Parque. Many of them returned again and again - just as I have since my first visit in 1984.

Little did I imagine then that only three years later

I would become curator of this great collection - a challenging position that taught me so much. In the 15 years since I left, the park has changed literally beyond recognition. Nothing is left of the old park except the plants and trees. Many new exhibits and attractions, in an expanded area, fascinate visitors on a full day out.

The original 13,000 square metres have grown to 130,000 with the purchase, over the years, of the adjoining banana plantations. Due to the driving force and foresight of the founder, Wolfgang Kiessling, Laro Parque never ceases to go forth with new ideas, while maintaining its very high standard of excellence in design, initiative and cleanliness. Furthermore, it has become a school of learning for hundreds of vets and biologists, and thousands of college students. Science and conservation are aspects unseen by visitors yet these disciplines have placed the park at the forefront of parrot research.

The original aim, to attract the public, has almost taken second place to that of conservation. Only one fifth of the parrots, totalling about 600, are on exhibit, with more than 2,400 housed in a breeding centre away from the park. All the parrots belong to the Laro Parque Foundation, much of the funding for which comes from the sale of young birds. The Foundation funds a host of important parrot conservation projects.

In this article I will focus on Laro Parque as a day out for parrot lovers that is unrivalled anywhere in the world. No one who visits the island can fail to know of its presence: every waste bin on the island proclaims different aspects of Laro Parque, which is situated on the central part of the north coast, close to the attractive and historic town of Puerto de la Cruz. The north of the island is very different from the commercial sunspots of the south!


The park's impressive entrance is quite literally dazzling! The main building is part of a Thai village (the largest outside Thailand). The gables and ridges of its elegant carved roof are decorated with 24-carat gold leaf, which gleams invitingly in the sun. A huge plinth resides on each side of the entrance steps and atop each plinth is a giant bronze cockatoo, carved in beautiful detail by a renowned Thai artist. These cockatoos are extraordinary works of art and repay close study.

From the entrance one crosses a picturesque bridge, below which the water "boils" with the activity of hundreds of huge and colourful Kai carp. To the left stately Crowned Cranes stroll through a grove of 700 Kentia palms, daintily picking up insects as they go. A flock of Lesser Flamingos from Africa reside between the Kai lake and a rocky backdrop presided over by tall palm trees.

and their furnishing to be found within the park. You might need to search for the parrots but their happy chortlings will probably lead your eye to these handsome, colourful birds

At once the impression of botanical gardens, rather than a theme park, is gained. Although the plant-

ing dates back only to 1972, the rapid growth in this perfect climate gives the impression of much greater maturity. It is lush, beautifully landscaped and immaculately maintained. The plant lover will find as much of interest here as the bird lover.

The very first aviary holds a pair of the endangered

St. Vincent Parrot (Amazona guildingii), one of the largest and the rarest of the Amazons. (The studbook for the species is kept at Laro Parque and the Foundation assists with its conservation). Their fine aviary, containing sturdy natural perches, ropes and fresh-cut branches, gives a hint of the standard of the aviaries 

The path leads past the impressive gorilla enclosure, probably the most natural and pleasing in existence, and covering 3,500 sq metres. Close by is the penguinarium, a spectacular exhibit where the Antarctic has been reproduced behind laminated glass panels.


Visitors step on to a moving belt that transports them past King Penguins and others that reside on a rocky peninsula surrounded by seawater, where 12 tons of snow falls daily. A gallery with seats (and an excellent educational film on penguins) offers more relaxed viewing.

Laro Parque has a number of small areas that you might not see if you keep to the main path. You could miss the six aviaries (each one housing a different sub-species) for Eclectus Parrots unless you continue upwards and to the left from Planet Penguin. Immediately past the latter are the aviaries for Amazon Parrots. Again, you could miss some species un-

less you leave the main path and walk towards the food outlet called "Casa Pepe". The Amazon aviaries continue past the sealion show arena. A very impressive number of species and sub-species are on show: more than 30.

The most loquacious are undoubtedly the Festives (Amazona ffestiva); they attract much attention with their friendly calls and vivacious personalities. It would be difficult to suggest which was the most beauti-

ful but a contender must surely be a very handsome Amazona ochrocephala described as the sub-species caribae (like a Yellow-naped with yellow also on the crown and extensive yellow on the nape). At the other end of the size scale, I have always had a very soft spot for one of the smallest of the Amazons, and that showing most sexual dimorphism, the little Yellowlored (Amazona xantholora). Its diminutiveness is so appealing!

The path leads past Chimpland (another beautifully landscaped enclosure, with viewing through large glass windows) and over a bridge. One looks down onto the lory aviaries on the right and the cockatoo aviaries on the left. The central area consists of a lawn, on which walks a pair of Stanley Cranes, overlooked by very tall palm trees.

The unique curving range for lories was the last set of aviaries to be replaced - in 2002. When they were demolished, no vestige of any original aviaries remained in the park. The new aviaries still follow the curving path, with a low hedge in front of them. But these aviaries are all planted and - amazingly - most of the plants survive. The back of each aviary is a simulated rock face with an inconspicuous entrance into the area where each pair of lories feeds and roosts.