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As this wonderful northern landmark nature park celebrates its 35th anniversary, we take a look at how it started, how it grew and where it’s going.
The German born founder of Loro Parque, Wolfgang Kiessling, first came into contact with Tenerife in 1970 when he was working as an airline manager and flying in German investors. He fell in love with the island and there was no doubt in his mind that he wanted to settle in Puerto de la Cruz.
Puerto de la Cruz - 22.12.2007
- By Sheila Collis. He gave up his job and started to research ways of making a living here, finally deciding to open a nature park as, “everywhere has cloudy days and people get sunburn and don’t want to go to the beach. Where can these people go? What can they do?” The first idea was to open a safari park, very popular in the great landed mansions in the UK in the early 70s, but logistically it would have been difficult to find enough land and the difficulties shipping in rhinos, lions etc were practically insurmountable. His father, a very practical man, also pointed out how much food would have been needed. After visiting many zoos and parks all over the world, the Kiesslings were enchanted by Parrot Jungle in Miami and decided to open a parrot park. Loro Parque was inaugurated on 17 December 1972 and the legend had begun.
At the time the law demanded that park companies had to have a Spanish partner, but for hotels it wasn’t necessary, so his lawyer suggested they open a hotel and that the hotel could have a park, just as others have a tennis court. So they did a first class renovation job on an old property that was within the grounds they had bought and opened a bijou luxury hotel which with just six rooms was the smallest five star hotel in the world.
It attracted a lot of people, famous actors and people from all walks of life. Sir Anthony Eden and his wife were guests there for three months for example, but it was difficult. Either the place was packed and Wolfgang and his wife had to move out of their apartment to make room for more guests, or they only had one or two rooms occupied and the visitors rattled around in the house, uncomfortable because there weren’t more people. The building is now his home.
Wolfgang still remembers with affection the first parrot he bought, a Moloccan cockatoo called Leo. Sadly it died from a broken leg, an injury that these days could be cured by their in-house veterinary surgeon, “today this is no problem, four weeks later it would have been back on the bicycle,” laments Wolfgang. But at that time there was no specialist service available anywhere. “Leo was the star of all the birds we ever had and we still always have a cockatoo called Leo in the show.” At the time the parrot park offered the first parrot show in Europe, it was the beginning of a long line of great achievements.
Loro Parque has much more than parrots, there’s a very great deal more .
A galapagos tortoise, alligators and chimpanzees were incorporated into the collection, a 180º cinema and in 1983, the first parrot breeding centre. The first international parrot congress was launched in 1986. Wolfgang’s goal when he started out was just to make a living for his family and he is pleased that his father lived long enough to see the original “little parrot park” become an enormous success, but sadly he wasn’t around to see the enormous leap they made in attractions on offer when they inaugurated the dolphinarium in 1987, still one of the biggest in the whole of Europe. It was a jump which, “started us on the road to where we are today”. The same year they began to finance a conservation project to save two endemic species of Amazon parrots, the foundation for the future development of the Loro Parque Fundación.
In 1989 the orchidarium was opened, and the first sea lion, Obelix, arrived in the facilities that had been reserved for them. The following year the
Gambian Market saw its first customers flock in curious droves to see and purchase the craft work of The Gambia and another male sealion and four females joined Obelix. The skillful and humourous sea-lion show now forms one of the most popular of the park’s attractions. The same year saw them join the permanent committee for the recovery of the Spix’s Macaw and the beginning of the long-term financing of what would become the most important project of the Loro Parque Fundación. Over the next three years they incorporated the shark tunnel aquarium, gorilla terrace and Thai village as well as the now famous yellow train which takes visitors to the park.
At the end of 1994, the Loro Parque Fundación was formally constituted and Loro Parque donated their complete parrot collection to the foundation, “these birds belong to humanity” Wolfgang reminds us. There is no false modesty about this world famous achievement. “I think there is no more honest organisation in the world than the Loro Parque Fundación, because when we did it we did it with the intention that the birds stay close to us and that we want them always to be very healthy. We have the right to borrow one pair of birds of each species that the foundation has, to show in the park and therefore we pay all their costs.
“We pay the 35 people who work there, people like David Waugh, the biologists and all these mostly expensive people and we pay all the food.” All the companies associated with the Loro Parque cooperate with the LPF, the BBVA for example recently gave them a cheque for 19,000 euros. The total funds available this year for conservation and education programmes all around the world was 700,000 euros, a sum which will increase to 750,000 euros next year. “If you go out in the world today and you talk about parrot projects you will surely hear our name involved in it,” Wolfgang proudly informed us.
Not a year seems to have gone by without some significant addition, the Arabic Palace for the Loro show, the new jaguar enclosure, the La Vera Breeding Centre, chimpland and then in 1999 Planet Penguin, the largest and most spectacular penguinarium in the world. It was a huge investment but has been a major success, only twelve months later the first Loro Parque penguins began to be born.
Then around 2003 out of the blue, they were contacted by SeaWorld, “they wanted to place four of their killer whales in appropriate installations that were not in any way competitive to them. Thanks to our quality they decided that Loro Parque would be the right place to bring them to.” Eventually they came to an agreement and the orcas were flown to Tenerife in 2006 and have been a monster hit with the public.
For the future they are now incorporating more free flying cages so that customers can also see how the flocks of birds fly and interact and are currently building a,”tremendously big cage” for between 50 and 70 Macaws. “The next project is a cage of about 1,800 m2 where the birds will live almost as if they were in the wild flying free and the visitors will be able to enter the cage and walk through the tropical paradise with them.”
When Loro Parque celebrated its 30th anniversary, part of the celebrations was the laying of the first stone at Siam park, the water kingdom theme park in the south which is expected to open around Easter 2008.
If you haven’t already been to Loro Parque, it really is a must-see visit and if you have been, go back, it changes and improves all the time. This is a superbly planned and maintained facility and it shows in the animals. If an animal isn’t happy it won’t breed so a good nature park can be judged by its breeding record, and Loro Parque has one of the best.
It’s important to know that Loro Parque has much more than parrots, there’s a very great deal more, for more than a full day’s entertainment. Wolfgang insisted, “this park is so good that even SeaWorld trusted us with four of their killer whales and August Busch of SeaWorld Corporation said that if he had to give one park in the world ten out of ten it would be Loro Parque. “Come and visit our parks we need you,” he invited. Wolfgang is puzzled as to why the percentage of British visitors isn’t higher, “because our product is such a beautiful product.” The main thing that puzzles him is that SeaWorld’s biggest foreign market sector are the British, who flock to Miami when they could see a show with the same spectacular creatures almost on their own doorsteps.
A total charmer, Wolfgang couldn’t resist a wry joke at the end of our interview, “don’t read just the newspaper come also to our parks,” he invited.