Madrid has two zoos, the traditional one which can be traced back to 1770, and a second one which opened in 2001. They actually belong to the same business group anyway so probably the whole point is just to charge more – and to expand the installations. They operate as independent entities. On the first of July, due to a number of circumstances coming together, I visited Faunia, the newer installation. The standard price for a ticket is around 28€ – but there are plenty of different discounts. I paid 18.90€ for a random Thursday discount that they’ve got.
Though it promotes itself as a “Nature Theme park”, Faunia is little more than a modern standard zoo. Of course, it is much better than the old zoos, and the animals are well-kept, an organisation in ecosystems or areas is not that much of a novelty any more. There are different areas: farm / petting zoo, night, lake, jungle, temperate forest, African forest, Australia…
Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), the largest lizard in the world, endemic to some Indonesian islands. They are venomous.
Tufted capuchin (Sapajus apella), an omnivorous primate from South America.
Red panda (Ailurus fulgens), an animal that is so different from everything else that it has its own family name all by itself. It is native to the Himalayas and the south west of China.
American flamingoes (Phoenicopterus ruber), long-legged wading birds famous for their pink colour that tend to live in flocks.
Ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), a group-forming species endemic to Madagascar. They are attitude-laden and fear-lacking little fellas who love to sunbathe.
Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda): a small fox with large ears which lives in the Sahara and the Sinai Peninsula.
Southern tamandua or lesser anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla), a species of anteater from the forests of South America and the Caribbean, which feeds on ants, termites and bees.
Kangaroo Rat (genus Dipodomys), tiny nocturnal rodents from North America that can jump over two metres
Butterflies – don’t expect me to be able to ID them, but my money is on Antiochus Longwing, a south American small butterfly
Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), a found in marshes, rivers and lakes in throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They are opportunistic and aggressive predators which ambush their prey in or near the water. And they can gallop. Look that up.
Arapaima (Sudis gigas), a giant fish native to the Amazon. They eat smaller fish, crustaceans, fruits, seeds, insects and any small land animal that they can catch on shore. Furthermore, this is an air-breather. It is a top predator that can become invasive if placed somewhere else.
Redtail catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus), another carnivorous fish from the Amazon. Never trust a catfish, they can literally eat you by accident (or on purpose).
Caiman (family Alligatoridae), reptile predators originating in South America. They are large and aggressive, but they tend to hut fish. Did you know that
Penguins (family Spheniscidae) are a group of aquatic flightless birds. Most live in the Southern Hemisphere, and they feed on krill, fish, squid and so on that they catch underwater. Contrary to the myth, not all penguins live in the cold, a lot of them live in temperate climates.
Coral reef, with clownfish (family Pomacentridae) and sea anemones (order Actiniaria) living in symbiosis.
Meerkat (Suricata suricatta) aka Timon from the Lion King.
Red-necked wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus), similar to but smaller than a kangaroo, and also friendlier. They, of course, originate from Australia. The Faunia webpage says that you can go into the pen and walk among them, but I didn’t try.
Yellow-banded poison dart frog (Dendrobates leucomelas). It is an amphibian which lives in the humid areas in the north of South American. They secrete toxins from their skin. Do not pet, much less lick.
Blue viper of the white-lipped island pit viper (Trimeresurus insularis). Beautiful, venomous, aggressive and feisty, this snake is originary from Indonesian islands.
Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica), it is really there. It is another venomous snake, and it has the longest fangs among snakes. And yes, it is really there.
White-cheeked turaco (Menelikornis leucotis), originary from forest in the highland regions of Eastern Africa.
Grey crowned crane (Balearica regulorum), a large bird from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Roseate spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), a wading bird from South America, with a very characteristic beak, hence the name
Macaws (genus Ara), endemic to Central and South America. They are “seed predators” which means they destroy the seeds to eat them
Scarlet ibises (Eudocimus ruber), another colourful bird whose original habitat is the coastal areas of South America. They use their long beaks to prove for food in mud or under plants – they eat a lot of small crustaceans, which gives them their particular colour
I guess it is worth a visit, but that’s just about it, if you consider it from a shallow point of view – because when you start getting deep into things, everything gets ridiculously expensive. Because the thing that does differentiate Faunia from other zoos is the fact that it offers “hands-on experiences.” Some of these are about 5 or 6€ and include a short talk inside one of the pens – such as “meeting” the pelicans or the penguins.
For example, the Pelican interaction consists in walking into the pen and seeing the birds from afar sitting on a bench while one caretaker explains basic biology facts and the other tries to get a pelican to eat trouts for a bit of a close-up “feeling”. Pelicans are large water birds spread all through the world but Antarctica. Their most important characteristic is the large throat pouch under their long beak, that they use to “fish” – they fill their pouch with a billful of water and keep whatever they can digest. Faunia has pink-backed pelicans (Pelecanus rufescens) great white pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus)
There are however other more expensive interactions, on the range of 40 to 50€, and one of them is the one I did – the interaction with the Manatees. Faunia has three West Indian manatees of the Antillean subspecies (Trichechus manatus manatus). Manatees are aquatic mammals – they breathe air and they spend all of their lives in the water, either salt or freshwater in South America. They don’t have natural predators, so they lack predator-avoidance responses, which makes them very tame and friendly. Unfortunately, they are critically endangered in the wild, mostly due to human-related deaths: hunting, habitat destruction and collision with ships. As they are herbivorous, they eat fresh and saltwater algae and plants, they are sometimes called “sea cows”, and eat plants and algae – males are called bulls, females cows and babies calves. They are sturdy and they can weigh between 400 and 550 kg, measuring up to 3 m in length. They have a long spine with pectoral flippers that have five fingers, but no rear flippers. Their body ends in a paddle-shaped tail. The neck is not visible and the head is stocky. They don’t have ears, their eyes are small and their snout is short, with nostrils that can be closed when they are underwater. They have a prehensile lip that they use to gather food and for social communication and interaction.
And they are adorable.
The manatees in Faunia are named Bruno, Fiona and Pelusa (“Dustbunny”), with the latter being the two-year-old daughter of the other two, born in the park. They live in the tank located in “The Jungle” area (La Jungla), sharing their space with catfish, arapaima and pirapitinga (the good-rep fish in the piranha family). For the interaction, you are asked to bring your bathing suit, towel and pool flip-flops. I arrived at the meeting point early and waited eagerly for the staff to come pick me up. Then I was guided into the inner area of the Jungle building, up a metal staircase and I changed into the neoprene suit.
As we waited for the other people to be collected, I saw the manatees swimming around, already anticipating the food. They had mulberry leaves, endives, and banana pieces for treats, and lettuce of different kinds as their main meals. The interaction itself is a kind of training for the animals. The trainers go in with an acoustic signal, and the animals recognise their own names, and each goes to the trainer assigned to them – you also get assigned a trainer so you don’t mess up.
There are two parts of the interaction. First, you get to feed “your” manatee whatever you are given. Normally, there are two people per manatee, but as this was in the middle of the week, even if in summer, we were lucky enough to only be three visitors – which meant your own personal manatee. Mine was Pelusa, the baby, and she was way more interested in the mulberry than the endives. During this part you keep your FFP mask on.
For the second part you “go down” with a snorkelling mask and even if you’re still on the platform you get to feed “whomever comes to you”, seeing the interaction from within the water. To finish up, you give your manatee a small branch for them to eat and play with, and they are released, you change back into your clothes and leave. My interaction took about one hour, and I was lucky enough that I had an “infiltrate” who took pictures from the “underwater tunnel” that crosses the tank. I also bought myself one of the official pictures that the resident photographer takes, because I really, really wanted a good picture.
All in all, it was awesome, and it even felt that the manatees came to wave bye-bye as I left through the tunnel.
As a zoo, as I mentioned, Faunia is a very standard one, with very few things that would make it special if not for the interactions. It could do with some more shades, because just after lunchtime it became really hot. Most food kiosk were closed due to COVID measures, and there were several vending machines. There were a lot of kids doing “urban camp” activities, and I got ran over twice – one of them pretty painfully to be honest.
Aside from the animals, there is a roller-coaster, also down due to COVID and a “dinosaur canyon” with dummies and animatronics that have really seen better days.
Furthermore, queuing to go in because the VIP entrance is blocked for… no really VIPs as there were none, and waiting forever at the entrance kiosk to get the Experience passes and then for the photos, were a drag. As a conclusion, going once in your lifetime, getting to do an interaction or two might be a good idea, but this is not somewhere I’m dying to come back to – though I am open to explore other parks from the same owner, such as the traditional zoo or the aquarium.
I mean, some of animals, such as this goose, had a very clear opinion about the park, too.
Walked distance: 12954 steps / 8.06 km
Pricing: Ticket: 18.90€ + Manatee experience 38.90€ + Pelican experience 5€ + Professional picture 11.90€ + digital upgrade (three-month access) 1€ = 75.70€. Way too much to plan another expedition any time soon.
Saved: We parked outside so we saved up the 5.50 € for the parking lot, and we took our own food.