We traveled to Holland with our head and heart set on primates

Friday, 22 July, 2016

Belen Roca veterinary primatologist starts packing for a management course in  animal welfare. A unique experience with over 350 primates.

Five hours flight from the Netherlands to Fuerteventura is not sufficient enough time to absorb the amount of information and experience of an expert on primates. Even today, Belen Roca, head of the department of primates and small mammals at the Oasis Park Fuerteventura, is excited to remember a close encounter between an orangutan and her. It was the first time she saw one of its kind! She visited  Apenheul, one of the best parks in Europe specialising in primates. She also met the  APP Fundation, animal rescue center with over 350 primates and other exotic mammals. And there she took a course in management and animal welfare in primates. July will be month designated not only for herself but also for Oasis Park Fuerteventura as part of a training program and continuous improvement of its professionals. Back home, and on the table, a battery of proposals and many reflections.

Q. A park of animals of reference Apenheul is pure emotion. You would define it this way?

A. It is Freedom. It is a pleasure to see how primates move above you without barriers. I ended up with neck pain because I did not want to miss a second of the behavior of these arboreal animals! Even the feeders were arranged on top of the trees, where they usually eat in their natural habitat. The sounds they emit, in addition, have been etched in my mind. It was exciting.

Q. You think you saw the ultimate expression of freedom in a space designed especially for them but what were the limits?

A. The limits are always the safety mark. Just as gorillas and orangutans had no direct contact with the public ... lemurs and marmosets were moving freely - the same one climbed upon your shoulder leaping from one tree to another on the way. Animals have a large space to move freely around the facilities and there are mothers who themselves care for their young in a naturalised setting. In fact the animals always choose whether or not to be seen and it is natural that people not always look upon that great bonding moment.

Q. Semi freedom in Apenheul: In what conditions do they live in APP?

A. The facilities are more functional than aesthetic but, as an expert in primates, this is something that we definitely value. Security measures are very sophisticated in both the opening and closing of gates and the cleaning protocol is very demanding: I saw companions even change clothes between installation and installation. I soon realised that was a measure to prevent contagion. Neatness was incredible such that you'd think you could eat off of the floor.

Q. And how does an audience react that may not be accustomed to direct contact with these animals?

A. One always wonders how they preserve the security not only for the visitors but for the animals  themselves and, in this sense, I was pleasantly surprised that everyone was obliged to deposit all their belongings in a backpack that was given at the entrance. And they were even checking once inside the park! The general public is respectful of these standards. And once inside the respect is also seen clearly since on it depends how they live the experience of a park like this. Nobody interferes with the natural movement of animals, not trying to capture their attention with gestures or whistles and, of course, they do not feed the animals if it is prohibited. Both animals and people coexist in harmony. And that's the behavior that we should all take when we visit an animal park. 

Q. Naturally you take a photo album from this experience which of them will now decorate the walls of your office?

A. I have so many and transmit so much! One reflects very well a very shocking moment for me when I came face to face with a group of bonobos and suddenly I saw running behind a young gorilla, and then, in turn, running behind a Patas monkey... you really are together, how is this possible? -I asked myself. The answer was a moat, a barrier almost imperceptible to the untrained eye and lush vegetation. No, really they did not share the same space but nobody would say. The picture was wonderful..

Q. It is a country with much awareness of conservation and animal protection

A. Yes. The concept of volunteering, for example, is deeply rooted and that explains why young people spend their vacations to experience firsthand all the rescue and rehabilitation of primates. They know that their work is very important which constitutes a large quarry. On the other hand, it says very much that APP is alive due to private donations and state subsidies.

“The sounds they make have been recorded", said Belén Roca.






Q. You mention a key concept in APP: rescue, making these centers in a "home"

A. A home that every year houses about 100 animals, unwary victims of human trafficking, exploitation or abuse in circuses or by individuals. They, like Oasis Park Fuerteventura, are a hope for many animals with a traumatic past. Animals, many of them that cannot be reintegrated into their natural habitat because they would not be accepted, and would not survive.

Q. Hence efforts to form stable social groups but also the "mobility" of these animals in Europe

A. The goal is always the welfare of the animals wherever they are. A primate needs at least one companion of its kind, for example. So APP not only does the rescue but also socialisation; APP favours this unión and manages the displacement.

Q. Oasis Park Fuerteventura also has success stories

A. Yes. Two different species of primates are already united and live in harmony. Anyone who wants to can see our white brush titi and a cotton-top tamarin nearby our meerkats installation.

Q. Which species that you saw would you like to start caring for and to observe as you did in APP?

A. An orangutan. They are my weakness. In addition I sympathise with them for the disaster caused by the oil palm industry to their habitats. Many of them die from burning and those who survive are separated from their families. They have also lost their home ... 90% of its habitat in Borneo and Sumatra has been destroyed over the past 20 years. As a lover of these animals I put my bit for the cause and not use anything containing palm oil. Unfortunately, palm oil is present in countless articles in the shopping cart. This substance also is behind the phenomenon of greenhouse gases; disservice done to the world.

Q. You saw an ape from Gran Canaria in APP

A. It was called Macario. That chimp reacted as I never thought when I greeted him and addressed a few words in Spanish.

Belén Roca is grateful for this trip to two centers of world reference in the recovery of primates. Already in June her colleagues Bernardo and Abdul traveled to Madrid to receive a course in management and training of wild mammals organised by AT Training. All training is leaning toward the protection and welfare of the great family of animals in Oasis Park Fuerteventura.