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We interview Mercedes Mayo who speaks to us, among other things, about the importance of getting safe habitats
On her trips to Ghana, primatologist Mercedes Mayo-Alesón asks the people who live in the settlements at the foot of the mountains where the white-naped mangabey lives: ‘What would happen if there weren’t any animals in the forest?’ Most of locals said nothing would happen. They are not aware of the impact that a tragedy like this could have. ‘When I explain it to them, they barely even believe me,’ she adds. Native communities may not know what would happen, but thousands of kilometres away from Ghana, despite knowing the answer, they don’t always act like they do.
Mercedes Mayo-Alesón is the head researcher of the mangabey conservation project, on which the Barcelona Zoo participates. This project especially centres on two endangered species that are in a worrying situation: The white-naped mangabey (Cercocebus lunulatus) and the Roloway monkey (Cercopithecus roloway).
A passion for animals
The young primatologist from Madrid speaks so passionately about the project’s recipients that she gives you the feeling that the first word she said when she started to speak was probably ‘primate’. She says that when she was little she did love all animals in general. She was hooked on documentaries on channel 2 and for Christmas they always gave her plush toys, while she asked for veterinary books she would read stretched out on her parents’ bed. She ended up knowing all dog breeds, saying ‘I identified them just with a glance’. However, she never had a dog. ‘Well, we had a holiday dog. It wasn’t mine, but our neighbours in Menorca where we spent summers. I used to walk around Milú every afternoon in the summer from the time I was six until I was 17.’ She also remembers the impact the film Gorillas in the Mist had on her (Michael Apted, 1988) on the life of Diane Fossey. ‘They no longer follow her working style, but to me she is an iconic personality.’
A career centred on primates
It wasn't however until university, where she was a student of social and cognitive aetiology in Psychology, that she discovered a whole new world that led her—under the guidance of Fernando Colmenares—to move to Barcelona to study a Master of Primatology. This was when she met Montse Colell and the project that linked her to the city zoo. Now, and she confirms it, she knows all the types of primates.
Indeed, owing to one of her lines of research, she could say she knows them so well that there will come a day when she can distinguish them all by their teeth. Especially if they belong in the mouth of a wild baboon or mandril. As a member of the project on human and primate evolution led by Alejandro Martínez Pérez-Pérez, and on which Jordi Galbany is also a researcher, the primatologist centred her studies on how dental wear is related to diet. ‘Teeth are what are most represented in fossil records. They are hard. It is astounding that we can end up knowing how to analyse them. When they say that a certain homo sapien had a diet based on something, they know it due to the teeth.’
From all angles and in all lands
At present, she combines her job as an associate professor in the Clinical Psychology and Psychobiology Department at the University of Barcelona with her work as coordinator of the mangabey project. The former lets her spend two or three months a year working in the field in Ghana. ‘We try to travel there in the dry season, but with climate change, everything is becoming blurred. It arrives later and is shorter every year, around March or April.’
She also works with the protection organisation Salva 1 Huella (Save One Paw Print) and undertakes actions related to animal conservation and protection. ‘With a group of people, we are trying to move forward a project at the zoo to attain visitors’ better interaction with the animals, with the aim of reducing their stress.'
The importance of knowledge and training to save the mangabey
Mayo-Alesón thinks that education is key for conserving animals and their ecosystems and that zoologists can play an extremely important role in this area. ‘What good will it do if we release white-naped mangabeys into their habitat tomorrow, if they are still illegally hunting them and deforestation is not stopped? We have to make the forests safe.’ For this reason, on her trips to Ghana, part of her fieldwork is focused on talking to the native communities. ‘It is extremely important to make them realise what they have around them and that they have to seek new ways of relating with wild animals.’ But she always spends a lot of time listening. ‘The people who know the most about the animals, the forests and flora are the locals. Sometimes we forget how valuable their knowledge is.’ And due to paying attention, the project team suspects the Miss Waldron’s red colobus may not be extinct, as people thought. ‘Different hunters, through photos that I showed them, assured me that they have seen this primate.’ Everybody, wherever they may be, must know the answer to ‘What would happen if one day there were no animals in the forest?’ and what their role is to prevent this.
Mercedes identifies and presents the mangabeys by name that currently live at the Barcelona Zoo and are part of the recovery project. You get the feeling that they also know her.
As we see that the definition our dictionaries give for the word ‘zoo’ do not match reality, we've decided that we will try to change it.
The normal dictionary definition is limited to describing them as places where exotic animals are exhibited to the public, and this definition just does not seem like enough for describing well what we actually do. We see ourselves as a display case for the contemplation, and very much for the study, of wild animals, not to speak of the zoo’s proactive tasks on basic issues such as its participation in conservation and reintroduction projects for endangered species, research related to biodiversity, both at the zoo and in their own natural habitats, and educational activities to foster respect for nature.
Zoos have evolved over time, and a modern zoo only makes sense as an ally of all other institutions that toil to conserve biodiversity and protect the environment. We know that we haven't explained the work we do in these areas that well, and we would like to do that better from now on. We bet that an updated definition of what a 21st century zoo is will help that!
Don’t miss this video that explains our objective and help us to disseminate it to obtain the definition that is right for us.
The proposal that we are launching today is part of our communications campaign for this year that, within the framework of celebrating the Zoo’s 125th anniversary, aims to bring the new zoo model presented by the Barcelona City Council in recent months to citizens. It is based on deepening the basic mainstays of the activities of a modern-day zoo—education, conservation and research—with the challenge of making the Barcelona Zoo a foremost ally for biodiversity.
Barcelona Zoo has a long experience in breeding birds and has always made efforts to conserve endangered birds - in particular scavengers such as vultures.
In the early 1970s, we developed the first initiative to create artificial feeding areas for vultures, which at that time were quite endangered in our country. A few years later in 1991, five griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) were sent to Montpellier as part of a reintroduction project led by "Groupe de Recherche et d’Information Sur les Vertebrés" in Cévennes National Park.
This time, our interest in reintroducing new griffon vultures - in conjunction with the recommendations of the European griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) breeding programme - led us to contact the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF). The result of these efforts was the transfer last Thursday of three males to Bulgaria, where a reintroduction project was started in 2009 as part of the European Union’s Life Programme. Over this time, more than 200 birds have been released, 10% of which came from European zoos. The project has been a success, and some of the released birds have even reproduced in a region where the species had become extinct 100 years ago.
The current colony of Barcelona Zoo vultures consists of 12 individuals - eight males, three females and one chick born in 2017 - three of which come from a rescue centre and form part of the current breeding group. The three birds sent to the Bulgaria were born at the Zoo between 2014 and 2015.
Once they had arrived safe and sound at their destination in Bulgaria at the Green Balkans Rescue Centre, the three vultures had their wings marked so that they could be identified in feeding areas as well as in the wild. They will spend time at this centre to acclimatise to the place and so that they accept it as their own territory. Their release will adhere to the soft release method that involves opening the aviary where they are living so that the birds can leave when they want to. The release normally takes place between April and October.
Characteristics and status of the griffon vulture:
The griffon vulture, Gyps fulvus, is a scavenging bird that occupies mountainous areas of Southern Europe and North Africa to Central Asia. They form large breeding colonies on cliffs. At the start of the year, between the end of January and early March, they lay a single white egg which is incubated by both adults for 50-58 days. Each pair breed a single chick per season and it stays in the nest for 110-130 days. The transformation in agriculture and livestock, the use of poisons and hunting reduced their populations in the mid-20th century. It is worth mentioning that more than 80% of the European population is currently found in the Iberian Peninsula, where in recent years their populations have been recovering. In contrast, other European populations of this species have suffered a significant decline, as is the case of the Balkan Peninsula: Bulgaria, Slovenia, Greece.
The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) has a European Breeding Program (ESB) for this species, coordinated by Jerez de la Frontera Zoo.
Following the instructions of the coordinator of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for the Dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas osiris), last year in May a young male of this species arrived at the zoo from Africa, with the mission of renewing the genetic line of the population living in European zoos. The ‘Asturian’ as the caretakers call this new breeding male—because he was born at a breeding centre in Asturias—has done a great job and has already become a father to four males and two females. The new babies live with the rest of the group, made up of their father and another 17 females, who will bear the names of their caretakers.
These new births take place 10 years after the first transfer of these gazelles to Senegal as part of the project to recover this species, carried out by the Almeria Arid Areas Experimental Station, part of the Higher Council of Scientific Research (CSIC per its Spanish acronym) with the support of several European zoos and the close collaboration of the Barcelona Zoo, which has provided specimens, funding and veterinary and educational advisory services. The future of the Dorcas gazelle, which has a vulnerable status in its original habitats in the deserts and steppes of North Africa, is now more promising. There are plans that the new specimens born in European zoos, including the Barcelona Zoo, will soon be used to repopulate more of the original lands of this species in Senegal.
Exploring new projects on the ground
The group known as the ‘Spanish team’, made up of the Almeria Arid Areas Experimental Station (EEZA), of the Higher Council of Scientific Research (CSIC) and the Barcelona Zoo, which worked jointly and successfully on the project mentioned above for reintroducing the Dorcas gazelle to Ferlo National Park (Senegal), was recently contacted by the FAO with the aim of replicating the same management system on the Koily-Alpha Reserve, in the Mbula region in the northern part of the country. The project is managed as a community reserve by the local population itself. Its objective is to restore local flora and fauna, including the reintroduction of animal species that already disappeared, such as the Mhor gazelle (Nanger dama mhorr), the Dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas), the white oryx (Oryx dammah) and the African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata), and trees including the baobab and the koily (Mitragyna inermis), for which the reserve is named. The project’s purpose is to stop the advance of desertification, and is part of the pan-African programme entitled the ‘Grande Muraille Verte’ (Big Green Wall), which covers the entire Sahel, from Senegal to Eritrea.
In February, the Spanish work team—made up of Conrad Enseñat and Hugo Fernández, respectively mammal conservator and veterinarian at our zoo, and team manager Teresa Abáigar from EEAZ/CSIC—were invited by the FAO to participate in a workshop in Senegal, along with all other project partners, including representatives from the local community, the Fulani ethnic group. The visit let them speak of the actions to undertake, as well as to study the characteristics of the small existing enclosure and the possibilities of permanently fencing the reserve, with a potential area of 2500 ha, in an area highly exploited by livestock, which has led to heavy disintegration of the land and the disappearance of species.
The exploration of the reserve, with participation from local eco-guards, consisted of a study of local flora (bushes, trees, herbs) and the identification of fauna by using tracking and the placement of camera traps. Areas of particular importance for the project were also studied, such as temporary flood lands and of scenic interest. Determining the precise current situation of the area is essential for moving forward with the project.
The signing of the agreement with the FAO for this ambitious project is expected to take place this year. As mentioned, it is not limited to the reintroduction of some animals, but also involves restoring animal and plant biodiversity with the involvement of the local population, which will be both financially and culturally benefited with the revival of these traits of their identity. For now, the installation and maintenance of the face is already generating work and the country’s flora and fauna are starting to be protected: a first step!
The Barcelona Zoo and SOS Primates are sending clothing and work equipment from our facilities to the Primate Recovery Center (CRPL) in Lwiro, a city in the province of South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Zoo’s collaboration with CRPL started on 2010, through the grants awarded by the Barcelona Zoo Foundation, aimed at the conservation, research and reintroduction of endangered species.
In this occasion, the collaboration consists of providing CRPL caretakers with proper clothing and equipment to carry out all the tasks that are performed daily at the centre: cleaning and disinfection of facilities, food preparation, recollection of branches so primates can play and make their nests. The initiative has emerged from the Zoo caretakers linked to SOS Primates, and the work equipment collected among zoo workers consists of trousers, shirts, polo shirts, raincoats and boots. The shipped material is duly inventoried, after having undergoing a rigorous inspection, cleaning and packaging process, and it constitutes a great aid, since the maintenance costs of the centre have increased much lately, with the arrival of new seized pups.
Some of the material has already reached its destination, but the CRPL and SOS Primates are currently calling on airlines and NGOs, to help them complete the transportation.
ENDANGERED PRIMATES: RESCUE AND CONSERVATION
The CRPL shelters more than 71 chimpanzees and 90 monkeys from eleven different species, which have been rescued from poaching, illegal trade and consumption of jungle meat. The only chance for the survival of these primates is this centre, which provides them with decent living conditions. The facility is located in a wooded area and they live in semi-freedom, to increase their level of socialization and the development of the appropriate behaviours of each species.
In the future, CRPL wants to reintroduce these animals into their natural habitat, following the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) procedures.
The task accomplished by CRPL and SOS Primates goes beyond seeking the well-being and care of primates in the area. CRPL buys fruits and vegetables from local farmers, to encourage local economy and employment. The centre has already created more than 44 local jobs and is currently carrying out an awareness program that takes more than 3,000 people every year, including military personnel, scholars and leaders of local communities in the area. Thus, CRPL and SOS Primates provide a transversal support to the local population.
SOS Primates is a non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness about the fragile situation of primates and the areas where they inhabit, in order to be able to contribute to their welfare and protection. This organization is formed by a multidisciplinary team of people with a primatology, animal welfare and conservation background. SOS Primates, and is closely related to the Lwiro Primate Recovery Center (CRPL).
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is located in central Africa, with more than 70 million inhabitants and is greatly rich in natural resources. It is also considered one of the most biodiverse countries in the world: among the many species (some endemic) that inhabit this territory are the chimpanzee, the bonobo, the mountain gorilla and the okapi. Five of its national parks are listed as a World Heritage Site. The area is considered to be one of the most dangerous in Africa, due to its great political and military instability.
You can also contribute by making a small donation to the SOS Primates' Campaign More than a race ... for primates and for the Congo's inhabitants
Since a few days ago, in the Aquarama lobby you can see a new aquarium with a replica of the Reef Park of the eastern coast of Barcelona. As in the sea, the structure will be gradually colonized by native species. For now, thanks to the collaboration of The Aquarium of Barcelona, they already live a bank of cardinalfish (Apogon imberbis) and some Mediterranean rainbow wrasses (Coris julis).
The Barcelona Reef Park was built in 2003, aiming to increase the biodiversity of our coast and to protect the area. It is located between the new port entry and the submerged breakwaters of Bac de Roda, where a total of 371 submerged structures have been installed.
These structures form artificial reefs and are placed on a sedimentary bottom in which there has never been rock bottoms. They are important to increase the complexity of this marine ecosystem and protect it. The project is based on the fact that every new substrate on the seabed is quickly colonized by diverse organisms and communities.
The Barcelona Zoo Foundation has been coordinating for some years the technical monitoring of the Reef Park project, with the goal of obtaining characteristic data on the state of the submerged structures, their colonization by living creatures, their eventual incidence on beaches and nearby coasts, and the evolution of fishing and marine communities. This project is monitored with the collaboration and advice of the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC).
The white-naped sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus Lunulatus) of the Zoo have a new facility! It is located next to the facility of orangutans and it is twice as large as the previous one. In this new 160 m2 area, the moat has been removed and the environment has been enriched with different structures, substrate and nets. Indoor areas have been extended up to 70m2, and they consist of 4 bedrooms with heating and a large lobby that can be seen by visitors, which enables to observe them even when there is bad weather and they decide to shelter from the cold. These facility makes management easier to integrate a new individual into the group.
These primates are named after their grey fur, which is darker on the back and whiter on the underpart. Of diurnal habits, they live in the rainforests of Ghana, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. This species is endangered and, due to poaching and the exploitation of its natural habitat, the distribution of its population is very fragmented and not abundant, in any of the areas where it still can be found. It was considered one of the 25 most endangered species of primates at the end of the 20th century and its wild population has been reduced by 50% during the last 30 years, due to deforestation for exotic wood market and fires to create crop areas, in addition to poaching, for the consumption of their meat.
The group of white-naped mangabeys in the Zoo of Barcelona consists of the male Racky, born in the Zoo of Accra in 2004 and transferred to Barcelona in 2014, who adapted very well to its new home, where he lives with two adult females, Kasi, born in Barcelona in 1997 and Monika, also born in Barcelona in 2009. Both gave birth a few months ago. In addition to these 3 adults, there is a young female, Kara, born in 2011, who had her first infant last year, and Phoebe and Nika, born in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The offspring born in 2016 are Ragnar, Eku and Priscilla.
The population of sooty Mangabeys is monitored in zoos of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) since 1994. In 2001, a European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) was created for this species, which is coordinated from the Zoo of Barcelona, and is aimed to promote its ex situ breeding and to reduce the rate of inbreeding, which was quite high.
One of the pioneering initiatives within this program was to incorporate the Zoo of Accra (Ghana), located in the original geographic area of the species. This was possible thanks to the management and supervision of the Coordinator of WAPCA (West African Primates Conservation Action), a NGO made of some European zoos, including the Zoo of Barcelona, aimed to promote the in situ conservation of primate species in West Africa.
While initially the focus was set on the strengthening the population groups of Mangabeys in Accra, later this cooperation has also allowed for some specimens born in this city to be transferred to European zoos (such is the case of our male, Racky), thus improving the genetic variability of the ex situ population. The next goal of the program is to establish a group of mangabeys in the Zoo of Kumasi (Ghana), in a semi-liberty facility, to be able to observe their adaptation to a more natural territory. This is a pilot test that can help guide a possible reintroduction program of animals to natural parks, if the necessary conditions were met.
The Zoo of Barcelona provides technical and financial support to the conservation of this species in Ghana and every year funds the travel and stay in Accra of a researcher and some students of the University of Barcelona, under the direction of Dr. Montserrat Colell, who carry out several studies and tasks. This monitoring in the area is very important to help the Zoo of Accra improve its primate management techniques and enable a proper management of the mangabey populations.
The Zoo will continue to contribute to the conservation of white-naped Mangabe and raising awareness among visitors about the difficult situation of this and other species in the wild.
The Barcelona Zoo Foundation has opened the application process for the 2017 grants for research and conservation projects. These grants are meant to support those projects that share the Zoo’s values of conservation, education and awareness towards biodiversity. This year’s grants are:
- 13th Edition of the Floquet de Neu Grant, for research projects on primates, focusing on any of these disciplines: conservation, ecology, genetics, ethology, cognitive abilities, reproduction, communication, animal well-being, etc. both in captivity and in the wild.
- 9th Edition of the Grants of the Research and Conservation Programme of the Barcelona Zoo Foundation, for specific projects proposed by external researchers, in accordance with the general goals of the Programme.
- 5th Edition of the Antoni Jonch Grant, for projects focused on the research on the native fauna of Catalonia and its conservation
- 125th Anniversary Special Award to the best research and conservation project of the Barcelona Zoo Foundation of the last five years.
Since 2009, the Zoo has granted a total of 742,844€ in scholarships, which, along with our research and conservation programs, constitute a proof of our commitment to the protection of endangered fauna.
The deadline for the submission of applications and projects for all the calls of 2017 is May 3, 2017 at 02:00 pm. You can learn more about the guidelines of the calls by clicking on the links or on the website www.fundaciobarcelonazoo.cat.
The Conservation project of the Montseny brook newt (Calotriton arnoldi), coordinated by the Provincial Government of Barcelona, with the support of the Zoo, the Regional Government of Catalonia, the Provincial Government of Girona and Forestal Catalana, has been selected as LIFE Project by the European Union. The LIFE Programme is the financial instrument of the European Union that is focused on the environment. This project will enable to improve, during the next years, the conservation situation of this critically endangered species and its riverside habitat.
Some of the following actions, among others, will be aimed on reducing the currently identified threats for the Montseny brook newt: to improve the condition of water in the streams of the Montseny Natural Park; to expand its distribution area by reintroducing of specimens bred in captivity; to preserve the genetic variability of the species and to raise awareness on the importance of the species.
This project offers the Zoo an important economic fund of more than 400,000 euros, from European funds, which will be assigned to improve the breeding facilities of this species and to create an educational room, aimed to raise awareness on the importance of brook newts and the fauna in Montseny’s mountain streams.
The implementation of this programme represents a boost to the work started 4 years ago, with the newt’s breeding facility, which has proven to be so positive for the conservation of this native species.
Status of the species
On 2005 a new amphibian species was discovered in the Montseny mountains, the Montseny brook newt (Calotriton arnoldi), which is endemic to the Park, as well as the most endangered amphibian of western Europe. A conservation programme was started at once by the Provincial Government of Barcelona and the Regional Government of Catalonia, to contribute to the survival of the species. On 2007 a test programme on reproduction in captivity was started in the Wild Fauna Recovery Centre of Torreferrusa, which the Zoo of Barcelona joined four years ago, to attempt to improve the future status and conditions of the species in case of a critical situation.
During the last years, the population of endemic newts has decreased 15% and the species is currently listed as critically endangered on the IUCN’s red list. The species is also protected by both Spanish and Catalan laws. The survival of this species is closely linked to the preservation of aquatic environments, but also to the vast forests surrounding them.
Encantador per visitar amb la familia. Hi ha una gran quantitat d'animals i es fantàstic
"Molt be!"El Zoo de Barcelona està bé per passar el dia entre amics o familia. Hi ha una gran quantitat d'espècies i animals.
Encantador per visitar amb la familia. Hi ha gran quantitat d'animals i es fantàstic