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Interview
Antoni Alarcon

Barcelona Zoo is about to chart a new course. In response to animal rights campaigners and legislation changes, it’s becoming an animalist zoo, which will ultimately mean fewer animals, more focus on conservation and education, and a different experience for visitors. Its director, Antoni Alarcon, tells Kath Hudson what this means…

By Kath Hudson | Published in Attractions Management 2020 issue 1


Barcelona is one of Europe’s oldest zoos. Opened in 1892, it’s now leading the way by becoming the world’s first “animalist” zoo, meaning its role is now less about showcasing wild animals and more about leading research, as well as educating the public on how they can play their part in conservation and focussing on breeding programmes for a select number of species.

Elephants, bears, camels, kangaroos and zebras will eventually disappear from the zoo. Under new legislation, they will no longer be bred because they are not endangered species and cannot be released into the wild. Those animals already living at the zoo will either be cared for until their death, or be moved to nature reserves.

An exception for the breeding ban is made for species included in plans for reintroduction to the wild. Currently only 11 species at the zoo meet this criteria, but its managers have been asked to produce proposals for other potential candidates. They would need to demonstrate that zoo breeding will bring quantifiable benefits for the conservation and viability of a species, and outline phases in which reintroduction into nature or population reinforcement will be carried out.

A new direction
Some conservationists and scientific communities who believe the breeding of endangered species in zoos is essential for their survival are against the ban. There has also been disappointment among some zoo employees, who fear for their jobs as a result of the changes.

However, animal rights pressure groups, including Libera and ZooXXI, have praised the decision, arguing it’s wrong for animals to live in an unnatural environment for the entertainment of humans.

It would seem that this change is also in step with what visitors to modern zoos want. User experience research (UX) – which helped devise the zoo’s new strategy – found that, for many visitors, sadness is the main emotion aroused in zoos, primarily due to the animals’ poor quality of life.

Visitor feedback also supported the notion that the concept of the zoo should be reframed as a shelter for threatened species and that education is the main value provided by zoos, together with the mission of preserving these endangered species.

This was the foundation of the new strategic plan, which was approved by Barcelona City Council last May. The new direction is backed up by a €63m (US$70.2m) investment plan over the next 12 years, which will upgrade zoo facilities and prioritise the conservation of Iberian and Mediterranean species.

Education and research
Zoo director, Antoni Alarcon, believes this change of direction is necessary and that zoos have a new role to play in society.

“Barcelona Zoo is not just for keeping animals,” he says. “It’s a zoo committed to conserving biodiversity and animal welfare. It’s also a zoo which believes these facilities must evolve to be able to work to prevent the silent loss of biodiversity, one of the main consequences of global climate change.

“In an increasingly urbanised society, which is divorced from nature, zoos must continue to evolve and become much more engaged, steering clear of cultural attitudes disconnected from scientific knowledge and operational models more suited to amusement parks.”

Barcelona Zoo already has a legacy of conservation and research, and has been involved with 242 conservation and research projects in conjunction with universities, public research bodies and NGOs. Going forward, the zoo will strengthen this commitment to preserving nature and its partnerships with both universities and scientific institutions.

“One of the plan’s most important proposals is to set up a state-of-the-art international level research institute, dedicated to all types of research and conservation of animal biodiversity, with the involvement of the main Catalan universities and research centres,” says Alarcon. “As well as leading environmental education, the centre will build awareness to the general public and encourage them to be more respectful and committed to biodiversity.”

Call to action
While being designed to provide the best animal welfare conditions, the new facilities will also take into account sustainability and the immersive zoo experience.

“Zoo-immersion criteria of visitors is a critical factor in the design of new zoo facilities,” says Alarcon. “We’re planning new interpretation centres which will help visitors understand the difficulties the animals are in, as well as the inherent risks in the habitats they live, and then personally involve them in preservation efforts.”

A comprehensive communication strategy will also be launched to inspire people to make a positive impact on the plight of wildlife in natural habitats: “A trip to the zoo is not just about observing animals in a series of facilities, but will become an all-encompassing experience,” says Alarcon. “It will help visitors acquire new knowledge and move them emotionally, spurring them into action before, during and after their visit, through our blog, social networks and publications.”

Technology will play an important role in how messages are imparted, so the learnings will be imparted subtly and subliminally and without visitors having to read lots of information boards. Provisions will also be made for specialist visitors, such as students.

Endangered species
Currently, Barcelona Zoo takes part in almost 100 off-site programmes for endangered species and is home to 100 species listed as vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered or extinct in the wild. But one of the main guidelines of the new model is to prioritise native species of fauna, species which are highly endangered in the wild and which already have conservation plans.

“The facilities provided for in the model will be linked as far as possible to in-situ conservation or cooperation projects,” explains Alarcon. “Given its worldwide importance and the degree to which it’s threatened by climate change and global warming, one of the priority action proposals is to recreate the Mediterranean environment, which is one of the richest regions of the world in terms of biodiversity and, at the same time, one of the most vulnerable.”

One example of this is the zoo’s work to save the Montseny brook newt, which can only be found in a 25sq km (9.6sq mi) part of the Catalan Massif and is the most endangered vertebrate in Europe.

Could this new approach from Barcelona Zoo become the blueprint for other zoos to follow? Alarcon believes zoos need to go beyond their traditional roles and embrace new disciplines and new perspectives, which show learning about nature can be fun and useful.

His vision is that the reorganisation will lead to the zoo becoming a vibrant centre for knowledge and biodiversity conservation, and that these changes will lead to it becoming more inclusive and relevant, as well as imparting important environmental messages.

Sustainable initiatives

Barcelona Zoo currently has reintroduction programmes for 11 species: the Majorcan midwife toad, lesser grey shrike, Hermann’s tortoise, Montseny brook newt, dorcas gazelle, Eurasian spoonbill, common heron, Scops owl, Mediterranean pond turtle, monk vulture and griffon vulture.

A Sustainability Plan has also been drafted to improve the zoo’s energy efficiency in terms of water cycle and use of resources.

The new spaces will include a Mediterranean biome; a marine biodiversity centre to disseminate knowledge about the threats to the Mediterranean coastal waters; a butterfly garden; an invertebrate pavilion explaining their importance for the planet’s biodiversity, and a Madagascar biome to talk about the importance of evolution.

New interpretation centres will be created for animals of the Sahel region; komodo dragons; Mediterranean creatures and orang-utans.

Some projects are already underway. The incorporation of the lions into the Sahel region will be completed by June and the komodo interpretation centre will be complete by September.

The griffon vulture is the focus of one of the zoo’s 11 reintroduction initiatives
World Association of Zoos and Aquariums:

Barcelona Zoo’s change of direction has not met with blanket approval in the zoo community. WAZA is very disappointed about the amendment from Barcelona City Council which also calls for the zoo to resign from all national and international membership associations, including WAZA.

In an open letter, WAZA, said these events filled them with “deep sadness and concern.” The organisation said that although it understands the concerns that all animals should exist outside of zoos, they are becoming increasingly important for education, research and conservation.

Zoos and aquariums are the third largest funders of conservation in the world and play a considerable role in battling extinction. Hundreds of critically endangered species have been saved through the captive breeding and reintroduction programmes.

Barcelona Zoo was also a major contributor – leading captive breeding programmes which have stabilised populations of critically endangered Roloway monkeys and White-crowned mangabeys. The zoo’s monitoring of fin whales in Catalan-Balearic seas has helped protect this endangered species.

WAZA goes on to point out that 85 per cent of the species at Barcelona Zoo are included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and over the last few years nearly 30 per cent of animals born in the zoo were released into wild habitats.

The education programmes have also provided a valuable resource to local students.

The letter says: “Together we must work at addressing major global crises such as species extinction, illegal wildlife trade, climate change, marine litter, deforestation and other threats to our shared survival. But the Barcelona Zoo itself is an important part of that relationship and far too crucial to the long term survival of wildlife and wild spaces to be cast aside.”

Ruth Martin, joint head and curriculum lead, Cornwall College Newquay:
Ruth Martin

Modern zoos generally have conservation, research and education as their core themes. The first can be done in isolation of visitors, in terms of breeding programmes, and Barcelona’s idea of becoming a breeding centre for endangered animals would fit this brief. They can work other collections to manage species with a view to reintroduction. 

Conservation of endangered species is laudable and a main aim of zoos, but keeping animals is an expensive business. Traditionally zoos have evolved from being solely for entertainment, to conservation centres, with visitors the source of funding.

Charismatic animals such as lions, meerkats, common marmosets and raccoons have been housed as additional attractions for visitors alongside the endangered species - which can often be the less attractive animals such as frogs - to enhance the visitor experience and extend their stay, as it’s generally believed a visitor will pay a higher ticket price for a longer visit. Zoos can then use any profit to support conservation programmes.

Zoos often cite they provide an opportunity for people to engage with animals they would never see in the wild. Captive animals are frequently regarded as ambassadors for their species.

Barcelona Zoo’s new direction is an interesting approach, but I think essentially it’s the funding aspect which will limit other animal collections from following the example. It’s an interesting debate that people only care about and value things they understand. If they don’t have contact with animals will any conservation efforts fail?

The attraction is in the early stages of transforming into Europe’s first ‘animalist’ zoo
€64.6m (US$70.5m) has been ringfenced for the project, which will happen in various stages through to 2031
The changes are in response to a new law on species survival programmes
New facilities will be more focused on animal welfare and sustainability
Many assert that zoo breeding programmes are essential for endangered species preservation
The plan puts animal welfare, conservation, research and education first
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RMA Ltd is a one-stop global company that can design, build and produce from a greenfield site upw [more...]
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A former national ski team racer, ProSlide® CEO Rick Hunter’s goal has been to integrate the smoot [more...]
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Interview
Antoni Alarcon

Barcelona Zoo is about to chart a new course. In response to animal rights campaigners and legislation changes, it’s becoming an animalist zoo, which will ultimately mean fewer animals, more focus on conservation and education, and a different experience for visitors. Its director, Antoni Alarcon, tells Kath Hudson what this means…

By Kath Hudson | Published in Attractions Management 2020 issue 1


Barcelona is one of Europe’s oldest zoos. Opened in 1892, it’s now leading the way by becoming the world’s first “animalist” zoo, meaning its role is now less about showcasing wild animals and more about leading research, as well as educating the public on how they can play their part in conservation and focussing on breeding programmes for a select number of species.

Elephants, bears, camels, kangaroos and zebras will eventually disappear from the zoo. Under new legislation, they will no longer be bred because they are not endangered species and cannot be released into the wild. Those animals already living at the zoo will either be cared for until their death, or be moved to nature reserves.

An exception for the breeding ban is made for species included in plans for reintroduction to the wild. Currently only 11 species at the zoo meet this criteria, but its managers have been asked to produce proposals for other potential candidates. They would need to demonstrate that zoo breeding will bring quantifiable benefits for the conservation and viability of a species, and outline phases in which reintroduction into nature or population reinforcement will be carried out.

A new direction
Some conservationists and scientific communities who believe the breeding of endangered species in zoos is essential for their survival are against the ban. There has also been disappointment among some zoo employees, who fear for their jobs as a result of the changes.

However, animal rights pressure groups, including Libera and ZooXXI, have praised the decision, arguing it’s wrong for animals to live in an unnatural environment for the entertainment of humans.

It would seem that this change is also in step with what visitors to modern zoos want. User experience research (UX) – which helped devise the zoo’s new strategy – found that, for many visitors, sadness is the main emotion aroused in zoos, primarily due to the animals’ poor quality of life.

Visitor feedback also supported the notion that the concept of the zoo should be reframed as a shelter for threatened species and that education is the main value provided by zoos, together with the mission of preserving these endangered species.

This was the foundation of the new strategic plan, which was approved by Barcelona City Council last May. The new direction is backed up by a €63m (US$70.2m) investment plan over the next 12 years, which will upgrade zoo facilities and prioritise the conservation of Iberian and Mediterranean species.

Education and research
Zoo director, Antoni Alarcon, believes this change of direction is necessary and that zoos have a new role to play in society.

“Barcelona Zoo is not just for keeping animals,” he says. “It’s a zoo committed to conserving biodiversity and animal welfare. It’s also a zoo which believes these facilities must evolve to be able to work to prevent the silent loss of biodiversity, one of the main consequences of global climate change.

“In an increasingly urbanised society, which is divorced from nature, zoos must continue to evolve and become much more engaged, steering clear of cultural attitudes disconnected from scientific knowledge and operational models more suited to amusement parks.”

Barcelona Zoo already has a legacy of conservation and research, and has been involved with 242 conservation and research projects in conjunction with universities, public research bodies and NGOs. Going forward, the zoo will strengthen this commitment to preserving nature and its partnerships with both universities and scientific institutions.

“One of the plan’s most important proposals is to set up a state-of-the-art international level research institute, dedicated to all types of research and conservation of animal biodiversity, with the involvement of the main Catalan universities and research centres,” says Alarcon. “As well as leading environmental education, the centre will build awareness to the general public and encourage them to be more respectful and committed to biodiversity.”

Call to action
While being designed to provide the best animal welfare conditions, the new facilities will also take into account sustainability and the immersive zoo experience.

“Zoo-immersion criteria of visitors is a critical factor in the design of new zoo facilities,” says Alarcon. “We’re planning new interpretation centres which will help visitors understand the difficulties the animals are in, as well as the inherent risks in the habitats they live, and then personally involve them in preservation efforts.”

A comprehensive communication strategy will also be launched to inspire people to make a positive impact on the plight of wildlife in natural habitats: “A trip to the zoo is not just about observing animals in a series of facilities, but will become an all-encompassing experience,” says Alarcon. “It will help visitors acquire new knowledge and move them emotionally, spurring them into action before, during and after their visit, through our blog, social networks and publications.”

Technology will play an important role in how messages are imparted, so the learnings will be imparted subtly and subliminally and without visitors having to read lots of information boards. Provisions will also be made for specialist visitors, such as students.

Endangered species
Currently, Barcelona Zoo takes part in almost 100 off-site programmes for endangered species and is home to 100 species listed as vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered or extinct in the wild. But one of the main guidelines of the new model is to prioritise native species of fauna, species which are highly endangered in the wild and which already have conservation plans.

“The facilities provided for in the model will be linked as far as possible to in-situ conservation or cooperation projects,” explains Alarcon. “Given its worldwide importance and the degree to which it’s threatened by climate change and global warming, one of the priority action proposals is to recreate the Mediterranean environment, which is one of the richest regions of the world in terms of biodiversity and, at the same time, one of the most vulnerable.”

One example of this is the zoo’s work to save the Montseny brook newt, which can only be found in a 25sq km (9.6sq mi) part of the Catalan Massif and is the most endangered vertebrate in Europe.

Could this new approach from Barcelona Zoo become the blueprint for other zoos to follow? Alarcon believes zoos need to go beyond their traditional roles and embrace new disciplines and new perspectives, which show learning about nature can be fun and useful.

His vision is that the reorganisation will lead to the zoo becoming a vibrant centre for knowledge and biodiversity conservation, and that these changes will lead to it becoming more inclusive and relevant, as well as imparting important environmental messages.

Sustainable initiatives

Barcelona Zoo currently has reintroduction programmes for 11 species: the Majorcan midwife toad, lesser grey shrike, Hermann’s tortoise, Montseny brook newt, dorcas gazelle, Eurasian spoonbill, common heron, Scops owl, Mediterranean pond turtle, monk vulture and griffon vulture.

A Sustainability Plan has also been drafted to improve the zoo’s energy efficiency in terms of water cycle and use of resources.

The new spaces will include a Mediterranean biome; a marine biodiversity centre to disseminate knowledge about the threats to the Mediterranean coastal waters; a butterfly garden; an invertebrate pavilion explaining their importance for the planet’s biodiversity, and a Madagascar biome to talk about the importance of evolution.

New interpretation centres will be created for animals of the Sahel region; komodo dragons; Mediterranean creatures and orang-utans.

Some projects are already underway. The incorporation of the lions into the Sahel region will be completed by June and the komodo interpretation centre will be complete by September.

The griffon vulture is the focus of one of the zoo’s 11 reintroduction initiatives
World Association of Zoos and Aquariums:

Barcelona Zoo’s change of direction has not met with blanket approval in the zoo community. WAZA is very disappointed about the amendment from Barcelona City Council which also calls for the zoo to resign from all national and international membership associations, including WAZA.

In an open letter, WAZA, said these events filled them with “deep sadness and concern.” The organisation said that although it understands the concerns that all animals should exist outside of zoos, they are becoming increasingly important for education, research and conservation.

Zoos and aquariums are the third largest funders of conservation in the world and play a considerable role in battling extinction. Hundreds of critically endangered species have been saved through the captive breeding and reintroduction programmes.

Barcelona Zoo was also a major contributor – leading captive breeding programmes which have stabilised populations of critically endangered Roloway monkeys and White-crowned mangabeys. The zoo’s monitoring of fin whales in Catalan-Balearic seas has helped protect this endangered species.

WAZA goes on to point out that 85 per cent of the species at Barcelona Zoo are included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and over the last few years nearly 30 per cent of animals born in the zoo were released into wild habitats.

The education programmes have also provided a valuable resource to local students.

The letter says: “Together we must work at addressing major global crises such as species extinction, illegal wildlife trade, climate change, marine litter, deforestation and other threats to our shared survival. But the Barcelona Zoo itself is an important part of that relationship and far too crucial to the long term survival of wildlife and wild spaces to be cast aside.”

Ruth Martin, joint head and curriculum lead, Cornwall College Newquay:
Ruth Martin

Modern zoos generally have conservation, research and education as their core themes. The first can be done in isolation of visitors, in terms of breeding programmes, and Barcelona’s idea of becoming a breeding centre for endangered animals would fit this brief. They can work other collections to manage species with a view to reintroduction. 

Conservation of endangered species is laudable and a main aim of zoos, but keeping animals is an expensive business. Traditionally zoos have evolved from being solely for entertainment, to conservation centres, with visitors the source of funding.

Charismatic animals such as lions, meerkats, common marmosets and raccoons have been housed as additional attractions for visitors alongside the endangered species - which can often be the less attractive animals such as frogs - to enhance the visitor experience and extend their stay, as it’s generally believed a visitor will pay a higher ticket price for a longer visit. Zoos can then use any profit to support conservation programmes.

Zoos often cite they provide an opportunity for people to engage with animals they would never see in the wild. Captive animals are frequently regarded as ambassadors for their species.

Barcelona Zoo’s new direction is an interesting approach, but I think essentially it’s the funding aspect which will limit other animal collections from following the example. It’s an interesting debate that people only care about and value things they understand. If they don’t have contact with animals will any conservation efforts fail?

The attraction is in the early stages of transforming into Europe’s first ‘animalist’ zoo
€64.6m (US$70.5m) has been ringfenced for the project, which will happen in various stages through to 2031
The changes are in response to a new law on species survival programmes
New facilities will be more focused on animal welfare and sustainability
Many assert that zoo breeding programmes are essential for endangered species preservation
The plan puts animal welfare, conservation, research and education first
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Founded in 1966, the Antonio Zamperla SPA is privately owned by Mr Alberto Zamperla. Located in Vi [more...]
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RMA Ltd is a one-stop global company that can design, build and produce from a greenfield site upw [more...]
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CATALOGUE GALLERY
+ More catalogues  
DIRECTORY
+ More directory  
DIARY

 

23-25 Nov 2020

Scotland Reconnect 2020

Virtual Event,
24 Nov 2020

BALPPA Trade Expo 2020

Drayton Manor Park , Tamworth, United Kingdom
+ More diary  
 


ADVERTISE . CONTACT US

Leisure Media, Portmill House, Portmill Lane,
Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 1DJ Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2020

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
LEISURE MEDIA MAGAZINES
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