Right in the city centre of Fuengirola, a seaside town on the Costa del Sol in Spain, lies a green oasis with many fascinating inhabitants.
Not merely a zoo, the Bioparc Fuengirola is a beautiful and calm place, perfectly designed to give its residents space and realistic natural habitats in which to live, grow and produce their young.
Originally opened in the 1970's as a typical zoo, with small cages and fenced enclosures for the animals. Living conditions were unspeakable and left a lot to be desired.
In December 1998, Rain Forest took over the contract to operate the zoo and have completely redesigned the property using the latest “full immersion zoo” concept.
The property is actually relatively small, so they chose to use a “tropical forest” ecosystem for the whole of the property - very suitable with the sub-tropical vegetation in the area. They set out to create an environment embracing the tropical rainforests of Madagascar, Southeast Asia and Equatorial Africa, including rivers and waterfalls, caves, valleys, trees and rocks.
Due to the limited space, subterranean stables were built for the animals to sleep and raised gardens were erected around the property to block off the nearby buildings - making it a different world within the busy seaside city.
Breeding of endangered species
Once everything was in place, the animals were introduced to their wonderful new habitat. Breeding of endangered species now successfully occurs, particularly with the chimpanzees.
Although the zoo had been breeding chimps from the outset, in the past there was a great deal of infanticide, as conditions were so unnatural. For the first time the chimps could walk on grass, touch plants, run, play hide-and-seek. For the first time they could behave like chimpanzees.
With the introduction of the new Bioparc, many of the animals are now successfully breeding.
Not only the chimps, but also the Bornean Orang-utans, the Sumatran Tigers, the lemurs from Madagascar, Pygmy Hippopotamus and the Blue Duiker are all examples of animals that now successfully breed their young in this new environment. It is truly wonderful to see the baby animals and their proud parents.
The Sumatran tigers have recently moved to another Bioparc in Spain and have been replaced with a pair of beautiful white tigers.
A stroll around Bioparc Fuengirola
As you enter, the staff will take your photo as a memento of your visit. You will then calmly stroll around the shady green environment, with tropical sounds appropriate to each section playing through the trees. It is easy to imagine that you are actually in the tropical jungles of Africa or Asia.
There are aviaries full of beautiful birds, waterholes with various buck and birds intermingling, including flamingos and their young.
The more famous animals in the zoo are the gorillas, the white tigers and leopards.
Also worth a visit are the orang-utans from Borneo - they have recently produced a cute youngster and the mother endlessly shows off her baby to visitors and also delights in posing for the camera - she definitely has a great sense of humour and allows you to catch some amazing shots of her.
The chimps are also enchanting to watch and currently have youngsters too. The buff-cheeked gibbons, with the male of the species being black and the female a beautiful golden colour have also produced young. Currently their baby is golden, but as it is a male it will eventually turn black like Dad.
Make sure you visit the Nile crocodiles - scary looking creatures but luckily the viewing glass is very thick!
The highlight of your visit is the Madagascar enclosure - habitat of the lemurs, where every 30 minutes you can take a tour to visit these friendly creatures.
Entrance to the enclosure is through a very realistic baobab tree - created for the zoo - which really gives the impression that you are in Africa. Staff give a talk in Spanish and English while in the tree, giving information both about the baobab tree and the lemurs.
Another highlight is the regular Forest Clearing Exhibitions, where you can enjoy a commentary on various animals in the zoo and see exhibits.
In summer, during July and August, it is good to visit the zoo at night for an amazing experience as the animals come to life after sleeping in the heat of the day - concluding with a dinner in the heart of the jungle. During those months, they also host African evenings with dancing and drumming (see video below).
All in all, Bioparc Fuengirola is a "zoo" in continuous evolution and it is difficult to include everything about this wonderful place in one article.
It is important to know that the zoo is involved in 35 European endangered species breeding programmes and also collaborates on a variety of international projects to save, in situ, the planet's endangered forest zones.
Please give generously to the various projects as you visit the zoo.
For those living in the area, the good news is that you can buy an annual pass for just 25 euros and visit the zoo as often as you like.
Video: African Dancing at Bioparc Fuengirola: