The Zoo educators are the guides of a fascinating expedition for young explorers willing to discover the animals and their stories.
Dies de Zoo
Els dies laborables que les escoles fan festa totes les nenes i nens tenen un pla perfecte al Zoo!
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For keepers at Barcelona Zoo like Raúl Cabrera, the day starts early. By 7.15am, they are already preparing breakfast for the primates and checking that they’ve had a good night. They take advantage of the fact that the animals are still inside to clean up outside. “We have to make it like our own home on the days when we have visitors. Once ready, he gives the primates the option to go outside or not. “In the old days, back in the 1960s and 70s, they were almost forced to go outside, but now they make their own choice. If they don’t fancy it, they don't go out.” Once the animals are outside, the keepers clean up indoors. “There, they have heating, lighting, things to make their den...” During the day, the zookeepers provide food for the primates as though they were in their natural habitat and make sure that visitors are respectful towards them. They are also responsible for making their lives richer - such as, by offering materials and activities that break their routines and administering any medication that has been prescribed by the veterinarians. “The animals trust us, their keepers. We can help make them better without the need for anaesthesia.” In the afternoon - at times that vary according to whether it’s winter or summer - they get the animals back indoors, where supper is waiting for them. “In the wild, they follow virtually the same timetable as at the Zoo".
On paper, this is where Raúl and his colleagues’ day ends. But is that really the case? “A zookeeper’s role", explains Raul, "is 24 hours a day. If we have a sick animal, we don’t clock off as though it doesn’t matter. In such situations, we often take it turns to care for them during the night.”
Beyond the Zoo
The job of a zookeeper requires dedication. At least, it is for Raúl Cabrera. He speaks passionately about his work and, above all, the animals he cares for. His involvement with them goes beyond his tasks at Barcelona Zoo or the positions he’s held at other zoos like Madrid or Tenerife or at projects like La Mona Foundation. Cabrera has built his life, his day to day activity, with the aim of ensuring the welfare and preservation of primates. With this goal, together with Laia Dotras, he founded the SOS Primates organisation. “The work we do here is voluntary. We’re currently, working with the CRPL project” - the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Centre in Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 76 chimpanzees and 96 monkeys have been rescued from poaching and illegal trafficking activities. They work to protect these animals, "but also to ensure decent conditions for the centre’s workers and the local population”. They lack infrastructure and so, taking advantage of a change in uniform design, he asked Barcelona Zoo if they could donate any uniforms that were due for replacement. “Now everybody at CRPL has two changes of uniform."
There’s no reason to doubt Raúl Cabrera’s almost exclusive dedication to primates. “Some time ago I decided I’d spend my holidays training, learning and understanding. You can never say you know it all". This quest has led him to spend time at the prestigious Jersey Zoo, the Apenheul in Holland and Monkey World in the south of England, among others. His first experience on site was in Indonesia with the Biruté Galdikas project. There, he was invited to release some orangutans. “It was one of the most emotional moments of my life. Unforgettable.” Not the only one, however. Working with bonobos in the Congo also left a big impression on him, as well as giving him the chance to study and share experiences with the Delacour’s langur, of which only 200 individuals remain in the EPRC sanctuary in Vietnam. “I felt so lucky. It was like a Bruce Springsteen fan being invited to attend an unplugged concert for just a few people in a small theatre!”
A kept letter
The Boss analogy offers another similarity in Raúl Cabrera’s life and a letter that he keeps - just as a Springsteen fan would keep the harmonica that Bruce played on The River. Cabrera was not yet a teenager when he bought a copy of Ecología y Vida at the newsagents. The first issue included the book Gorillas in the Mist about Diane Fossey's experiences. “I read it and was blown away". In fact, he was so impressed that he wrote a letter explaining how he felt to the famous primatologist’s Digit Foundation in the United States. “I sent the equivalent of about twenty euros which my brother who worked at the airport converted into dollars for me”. A classmate’s mother helped him translate the letter into English. He says: “I still keep the reply I received. I didn’t expect to get one and if I read it now, it still makes me feel emotional.”
Without doubt, to do a job like Raul's you need to have a special kind of sensitivity. He says it comes from his mother: "She was very generous and was always willing to help others. And she never told me I couldn’t bring an animal home.”
The good zookeeper's manual
Raúl Cabrera is an international representative of the Iberian Association of Wild Animal Zookeepers (the “AICAS") to the International Federation of Zookeepers (ICZ). They share knowledge and experiences, run forums and organise meetings, “We’re currently preparing a manual using images because many zookeepers in India can’t read”.
According to Cabrera, a zookeeper must be an observer, have patience and empathy. They must be in good physical shape, mentally prepared and be very aware of safety: “An animal will take advantage of a door you’ve left open”. In the end, however, he ends up summarising it in two main principles: “A zookeeper must try and live as close as possible to nature. And he or she must be willing to help.”
The biologist also talks about "getting the message out there" and the importance of devoting time to explaining and teaching about the zoo: “Whenever I can, I try to give talks and show more about how the animals live.”
Raúl Cabrera talks about the Zoo’s residents as if they were his family. Although he wasn’t the keeper who spent the most time with albino gorilla Floquet de Neu (or "Copi" as the keepers called him), he says he was an exceptional animal. “He knew he was special, but with us he was very kind. He was harsh with his ‘women’ and daughters but was loving and playful like any grandfather would be with his grandchildren.
He also talks about chimpanzee Tibé and Jinga who had to be taken care of after an operation to put pins in her broken arm when she was a baby. She’ll soon be going to live in another zoo because she has grown bigger.
”You always love the animals. And you always remember the ones you’ve got to know and worked with. And no matter how long it’s been, they always remember you.”
Have you heard about our new Zoo app yet? A new tool to get the most out of your visit to the Zoo! Download it and you can:
- Find the fastest route to your favourite animals
- Find out about all the activities the Zoo is doing and their times
- Obtain full information on all of our services
- Find information on the Zoo’s most representative animals
- Follow our suggested routes to optimise your visit
The application, with an interactive map with geopositioning, guides you through the park, following the route you are most interested in, letting you plan your visit with updated real-time information on everything you can do at the Zoo on the day in question. You will also receive news of interest on the Zoo’s animals and the Zoo’s conservation projects.
We hope that this new mobile platform will enrich your experience when you come to see us!
iOS and Android versions
Can be downloaded at the App Store and Google Play
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.
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