Then and Now – Omega Park’s baby boom

LAST YEAR, The Resident reported that Omega Park, the conservation area for endangered species which stretches over five hectares in Monchique, had opened its doors. A year on, the animals appear to have settled in well and the park recently experienced a baby boom as a result of its continuous breeding programme.

Situated on the mountain road to Monchique, the park is part of EAZA (the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums), a foundation that is dedicated to organising and facilitating the breeding of endangered animals in surroundings that are as close as possible to their natural habitat. Jeanett Bech, marketing and commercial director for Omega Park, spoke to The Resident journalist, GEORGE FLETCHER, about the benefits of the breeding programme and how it works on an international basis.

“We work exclusively with ‘red-listed’ animals,” she explained, “which basically means the most endangered.” Because it is part of the EAZA foundation, Omega Park has contacts with other preservation parks and centres across the world and this ensures effective continuation of the breeding programme. “We swap animals that are needed,” explained Jeanett. “For example, if one park has a male lemur but no female, then they have access to all the other parks that are part of the EAZA group and can find out where there is a spare female lemur.” To illustrate this point, the park is currently waiting for a female red panda to arrive from a zoo in England to mate with the only male red panda it has.

Ethically, the park is very consistent with its message of working mainly to protect animals – it never homes animals from the wild, only those that are used to living in captivity. And there is also no actual trading of animals for a profit within the EAZA foundation – the animals are simply swapped based on necessity. This is despite the fact that the park receives no official funding and relies solely on income from entry fees and sales in the café.

Although the temptation to pet all the animals living in the park is strong, Jeanett explained that even though all the creatures are endearing and very cuddly, actual physical contact with them is banned. “If any of the animals got too fond of their keepers and accustomed to being spoiled with physical attention, they could become reliant on it. This would then affect their breeding because it is not very natural for them to be overly comfortable being handled by humans. So, unless any of the keepers actually need to touch the animals for any reason, they do not,” she revealed.

Many people believe that caging an animal is wrong, no matter what the circumstances. However, there are many animals fast approaching extinction and, for Jeanett, avoiding extinction is a priority and the main purpose of the park. Indeed, from walking around the whole park, which takes around an hour and a half, it is noticeable that many of the animals are in roomy, open plan areas. “Gondor, the 12-year-old cheetah, has to be entirely caged in for obvious reasons – he is huge and could suddenly turn,” Jeanett explained. “However, of all the big cats, the cheetah is actually the least aggressive – because they are such fast creatures, they tend to scarper from danger rather then actually face it. But even so, it is dangerous to take any risks.”

Despite last summer’s fires, which almost reached the park’s perimeter, everything has been going well for the staff and animals at Omega Park. And with everything from pygmy hippos to spider monkeys, it has lots for visitors to see. If you are a sucker for cute baby monkeys and lemurs, visit Omega Park as soon as possible because they are growing up fast!

The park opens at 10am and, until the end of September, closes at 7pm. During the winter it closes at 5.30pm. For any more information about the park, call 282 911 327.