Everybody knows that the jungle is a much more dangerous place at night than during the day.
Throughout the month of August you can judge for yourself at Fuengirola Zoo. During the day diurnal animals, those that are awake during the day, populate the Equatorial Africa and Southeast Asia compounds. The nocturnal animals have their own sleeping accommodation nearby. At night the reverse occurs, the diurnal animals retire to their sleeping quarters and the nocturnal animals populate the compounds. As you walk along the discreetly lit paths you hear scratching, purrs, snorts and the occasional slithering sound from the undergrowth and hope the python is still in the Abandoned Mine. You will see fiery red and emerald green eyes flashing at you as you pass. An occasional shape, fleeting as a shadow, catches your attention to one side but when you look there is nothing there. A piercing scream reverberates through the still night air, was it a bird calling or is dinner served? The shadow is now beside you and you realise you are being accompanied by a porcupine. You are very aware that there is little between you and these animals.
Opening until midnight Fuengirola Zoo is an experience for the entire family. The animals are in large compounds that, during the day, are designed to allow the visitor to get as close as possible. At night the design allows the animals to get as close as possible to the visitors.
The centre of Fuengirola is not perhaps where you would expect to find a zoo. Nor is it usual to find that said zoo is involved in 35 European endangered species breeding programmes and a number of International projects to save the planet's endangered forest zones.
It is also a pity the owners called the place a zoo, with all that word implies, bars and cages and bored animals, because Fuengirola Zoo is nothing like that. In fact there are no bars or cages. It is the first zoo you will visit where you are likely to find porcupines and a lynx wandering past, where otters play in a stream separated from people by the edge of a path and where armadillos almost sniff your ankles. To totally reassure you, all the dangerous animals are in large compounds and seem very happy with the arrangements made for them. The zoo have also introduced an innovative idea to make maximum use of space. The nocturnal animals have small sleeping areas where you can see them. At night they are let loose in the large compounds and the diurnal animals retire to their sleeping accommodation. During July and August you can book a night visit to the zoo that ends with a dinner served in the heart of the jungle. Quite an experience!
The zoo is split into two parts, Equatorial Africa and Southeast Asia. It is amusing to see that some birds of either region fail to make any distinction and migrate between areas at will. The atmosphere has been deliberately created to give you a sense of actually wandering through an African or Asian jungle with imaginative use of rock and water to keep the animals under some sort of control although watching the species like mongoose and chimps happily playing in real trees it is easy to imagine that, if they wanted, they could easily escape.
There are two exhibits that are great for children. The first is a walking tour of the lemur compound. There are two guides, one English, one Spanish, you join the party of choice. Mentioning languages, there are lots of informative signs around and all are in both languages. The lemurs are, shall we say, playful, and not at all shy of humans, although they should be since they are a favourite food in Madagascar. This walk occurs every half hour.
The second exhibit is called simply a 'Jungle Clearing'. It is a half circle of stone, terraced, seats surrounding a natural clearing. There are no fences or protection. Various animals are enticed, by the artful positioning of food, to wander about including the aforementioned porcupines and lynx. As each one emerges there is a collective gasp from the kids and, remarkably in Spain, a collective breathless hush as they realise that this animal may find a small person appetizing. As each of the more dangerous species disappears there is a relieved round of applause. Various birds are similarly enticed to swoop around at head level, including a Condor. It really is the next best thing to going on a safari.
To get the best of the day it is recommended you venture down all the small paths, even when they seem impassable due to the overhanging foliage, because the designers have imaginatively hidden some of the best viewing places away. One such path leads to a large conservatory type building full of jungle like plants. It is also teeming with life. You have to part the foliage to see the many species of birds that live on the jungle floor. Above are species that live in the jungle canopy, including flying foxes dangling from branches looking, during the day at least, like large bunches of grapes.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.