Perched atop a mound of ochre coloured rocks, a small black cat peers sedately into the lion’s den. A couple of very rare white lions gaze back – lioness Saskia offering up a lazy scowl. A group of visitors ooh and ah as Nanouk shakes his young mane. Expertly judging the crowd, the king of the jungle emits a low, thunderous roar. The observers gasp. Kitty doesn’t as much as move a whisker.
Clearly at ease in such close proximity to its larger, more ferocious cousins, this domestic cat is one of a handful of creatures that have decided to pick up sticks and move into the green oasis of Parque Las Aguilas Jungle Park. Similarly, a community of frogs has sprung from nowhere to fill the lush ponds, while an assemblage of birds and insects also pay regular visits.
Situated on the hills overlooking Las Américas, this park is the animal equivalent of a five-star holiday resort – a verdant sanctuary sat amidst the arid, rocky landscape that distinguishes the island’s southern coast. The dense arrangement of greenery harbours an array of enclosures. Home to some 600 animals, the impressive menagerie includes tigers, leopards, penguins, meerkats, apes, monkeys, crocodiles and hippos.
When the park opened a decade ago, its original theme centred on birds (águila translates as eagle), though evidently the focus has broadened greatly since then. As a result, there have been a handful of different names for the park over the years, including ‘Las Aguilas del Teide’ and ‘Ecological Park’. Its current moniker, ‘Parque Las Aguilas Jungle Park’, is a bit of a mouthful but, according to the zoo’s marketing department, the park aims to rest with the much snappier ‘Jungle Park’.
Birds still play a major role here at the park. Aside from a standard procession of displays, there are also two highly entertaining shows. The ‘birds of prey’ show features eagles, vultures and hawks, with the majestic creatures taking it in turns to swoop in from various areas of the park.
Throughout the open-air display, handlers circle the central plaza, carefully choreographing the birds’ actions; while a bubbly presenter tells the audience about each species. One of the last performers to glide in is an imposing condor with a 3-metre wingspan, inducing a communal ‘wow’ from the crowd. This half hour show is only in Spanish, but the ‘exotic bird show’ sees two presenters alternating between Spanish and English.
Aside from an abundance of plant life, the jungle theme is also expressed in the zoo’s décor. African motifs decorate heavy doors; benches are shaped like lizards; Bengal tigers are housed in an Indian temple and two resident pythons twist around a serpent-shaped sculpture.
On a larger scale, a realistic cave sits at the zoo’s northernmost point. A foamy gush of water cascades along the rocky exterior; while inside, an array of stalactites drop authentically from the dank stone-like ceiling.
A small group of performers, dressed in traditional African costumes, dance and play the drums for passersby; further enhancing the jungle atmosphere.
What makes this park special is its layout. Hidden amidst a thick bulk of trees and plants, tangled trails loop around a collection of shaded enclosures. Visitors marvel as creatures large and small roam the grasses, scale trees and slip behind rocks. The enclosures blend easily into the surroundings and are successful in emulating the animals’ natural habitat. Stressing the earthy feel of the park, many displays forsake glass barriers in favour of more creative alternatives. Many are designed so that observers actually view the animals from above. The crocodiles and alligators, for instance, are a gleaned as you walk bravely across a 12-metre hanging wooden bridge. Similarly, the vast enclosure that’s home to the orangutans is a sunken valley of rocks, trees and watery trenches.
Since apes generally dislike water, there’s no need for a barrier when it comes to the gibbon display. The father and son team have their very own island, while the surrounding moat hosts a flock of pelicans. There’s also a chance to pet the animals; an open enclosure houses a group of squirrel monkeys, which happily jump from one person to the next as if hopping between branches.
If you’d like to see the zoo’s community of ostriches, you must slide to their location via a swirling bobsleigh track. A clever idea, though a little unfair if you happen to be with a hoard of children (it costs €2.50 a pop). Luckily there aren’t many other hidden costs at the theme park. A free obstacle course dubbed ‘Jungle Raid’ criss-crosses above the bob track; old and young alike can put their agility to the test in this network of ropes, poles, bridges and tunnels. Or if you’d rather conserve your energy, opt to keep to the stream of footpaths instead.
At times the greenery takes over and visitors are simply required to walk through dense patches of jungle or along narrow paths flanked with towering trees, thick masses of cacti and brightly coloured flowers.
It takes at least two hours to walk around the park and see everything (wear comfortable shoes), although you can happily while away most of the morning or afternoon here. There are plenty of reasons to enjoy a lengthy pause; whether to watch the penguins being fed, take in a show or stop for lunch at one of several snack bars scattered around the park. Alternatively, a handful of picnic areas provide an unusual setting in which to park your hamper.