EXCLUSIVE: How Terra Natura Benidorm and its mostly endangered animals have adapted to the pandemic.
WHEN the pandemic halted nature-based tourism worldwide, environmentalists warned of far-reaching consequences as zoo, parks and reserves were forced to remain afloat without visitors.
Terra Natura Benidorm is no exception, and for the first time in 16 years was forced to close to the public from March until June 21, 2020. It is currently open only at weekends and during holidays.
But throughout the unprecedented difficult period, the welfare of the animals has remained paramount, and the management adapted normal day-to-day activities to ensure the 1,500 animals of 150 different species – the majority of which are endangered – continue to receive the level of care they need.
Blissfully unaware of the global health crisis, the calls of the exquisite black-furred Siamang gibbons continue to resonate around the 32-acre park.
Giant Indian rhinoceros Shiwa continues to nurture her two-year-old daughter Duna, under the watchful eye of Aunt Nicha, and the majestic Bengal tiger family, including ‘papa’, an impressive white tiger, still enjoy luxurious afternoons lazing in the sun.
All of this has been made possible due to the unwavering dedication of park management and staff, with the financial support of holding company, Grupo Fuertes, one of Spain’s main business groups which manages around 20 companies.
“It has been a very difficult year for everybody,” Terra Natura Benidorm’s marketing director Begoña Lopez Boluda told Euro Weekly News: “Having to close was a massive blow, and when we reopened in June, it was with capacity restrictions, firstly 30 per cent and then 50 per cent.
“Fortunately, the park has 32 acres, so capacity hasn’t really been a problem, but our volcano where the reptiles live remains closed to the public because it is an enclosed space,” said Begoña, adding that for the moment the restaurants are shut – though there is ample space for picnics – and interactive activities are temporarily suspended.
On entering the nature park, temperature checks are carried out, hand sanitiser is provided and masks are mandatory, as is social distancing.
“We check every day if there have been any changes to the regulations, and the National Police along with a representative from Benidorm’s local authority regularly visit the park unannounced to check we are following all the government-led guidelines,” explained Begoña.
“The government has given us certain certifications which we have published so that visitors can see that this is a safe environment.”
Terra Natura’s 1,500 animals receive attention from a specialised team of caregivers, biologists and vets 365 days a year.
“During the three-month closure last year, two teams of caregivers were set up incase a member of one team was unwell. That way we could ensure the animals were cared for throughout. The only real difference for the animals was the lack of visitors.”
Begoña added: “We are a private business, so there was no financial help from the authorities. Grupo Fuertes has been helping and looking out for us during the crisis.”
Fortunately, all the staff at Terra Natura have kept their jobs, through ERTE and reduced hours in some cases, and when the Euro Weekly News visited the park at the weekend, there was an unmistakable air of positivity as families were welcomed at the gates.
“We have a wonderful offer for families to enjoy the park at a discounted price throughout the year, and while numbers are down, there has definitely been an upturn in visitors,” said Begoña.
Not only are visitors treated to the opportunity to see fascinating creatures through to majestic mammals close-up, they are also transported into a tranquil, lush environment as Terra Natura strives to recreate an element of Asia, India and America.
“We work for the physical and emotional wellbeing of animals both individually and in species by understanding their nature, their care, their needs and threats in their natural environment.
“We have tried to recreate everything they would find in their own environment, and knowledge and proximity to the animals facilitates the sensitisation and empathy of our visitors regarding living things and the importance of biodiversity,” explained management at the park.
Terra Natura participates in breeding and conservation strategies for endangered species (EEPs and SBs), and in 2015 welcomed Indian rhinoceros Susto – Spain’s first Indian rhinoceros born in captivity.
The Agriculture and Environment Agency carries out annual inspections, and Terra Natura collaborates with other environmental institutions, including ZIMS, AIZA and EAZA.
“We also cooperate with the Guardia Civil, if they find animals locally we help with vets etc, and likewise if birds of prey are injured through hunting or flying into electric cables, they often come here to be cared for.
“We would prefer not to exist because that would mean there were no endangered species, but there are, and they need our help. Habitats are being destroyed, for example in Asia palm trees are being cut down forcing animals out of their own environment into urban areas where they are at risk of being killed.”
A varied diet is essential for the maintenance of animal welfare and for the prevention of disease and apathy, and an ‘animal kitchen’ team start their day early to prepare and distribute meals throughout the park before caregivers begin their daily routines – no mean feat when you consider that Petita, a 3.2 tonne elephant, for example, can eat 100 kilos of food a day.
“Environmental enrichment enhances natural behaviours…..and a varied diet hidden in different locations prevents the onset of diseases and routines. The natural habitat design (vegetation and lairs etc) stimulates the exploratory capacity; concern for the animal habitat reduces their stress levels; and the presence of animal toys as well as sounds, smells and tastes heighten the attention and curiosity of the animals,” said the management.
The crisis has plunged Terra Natura Benidorm into unprecedented times, but management and staff are determined to continue putting the needs of the lions, tigers, elephants, rhinoceros, birds of prey, bats, crocodiles and so many other species first.
“We are like one big family here, and have become closer during the pandemic, remaining in contact with each other throughout,” said Begoña, adding: “This year is certainly proving to be better than last year, and we have had such a positive response from visitors.
“It has been very difficult, with all the uncertainty. We have missed our clients and can’t wait to see everyone back,” added Begoña.
This week, Terra Natura Benidorm unveiled its new app which allows the public to prepare their visit, purchase a ticket or even use it as a guide during their stay at Terra Natura and Aqua Natura Benidorm.
It also includes a 360º virtual tour.
General Director of Terra Natura Benidorm, Luis Perea, stressed that through this app “we have tried to adapt to the most demanded needs of our visitors in order to enhance their loyalty and interaction”.
Terra Natura Benidorm is open Saturday and Sunday from 10.30am to 6pm. Saturday.