Zoological Collections in Portugal - Situation in 2007


The western European country of Portugal is famous for its strong winds and moderate climate. In general the climate is dry, but with a good amount of rain during some months. The warm to moderate temperatures create brilliant vegetation in many areas.

The country is quite small, covering only 92,000 km². The resident population of ten million does not provide a strong argument for opening a zoo in this country, but about 12 million tourists every year represent a large number of potential zoo visitors, making some doubts about commercial success disappear.

As a result of its rich colonial past, Portugal has a relatively long history of zoological gardens. The first royal menagerie was built by King Denis (1279-1325) and was inhabited by species from the local fauna, bears and wolves in particular. The second royal menagerie, which was supplied with many animals brought from Africa for King Alfonso V (1438-1481), was created in Cintra.

Portuguese colonization and trade were carried to their peak by Vasco da Gama at the end of the 15th century. During that period many African and Asian animals arrived in Lisbon. Particularly interesting to note is the arrival of the first rhinoceroses to reach Europe since the destruction of the Roman empire. A sketch by a Portuguese artist of an Indian rhinoceros just unloaded at Lisbon harbour later inspired Albrecht Dürer's famous drawing of 1515 (with the unusual horn on the neck). At that time a third menagerie to accommodate all these animals was built in Ribeira.

During the second half of the 16th century the Portuguese conquests and the nation's wealth gradually decreased. But finally the menageries, which had been abandoned during the Spanish occupation (1580-1640), were restored after the revolution of 1640. The menagerie of Ribeira was quickly repopulated. Just near the gates of Lisbon, in Belem, another menagerie was created by King John V in 1726. Because of its importance and its design the Belem menagerie is sometimes regarded as the first true Portuguese zoological garden. The menagerie of Queluz was the last royal menagerie created in Portugal. The royal family had to flee due to the French invasion in 1807 and all the zoological collections were then completely abandoned.

About 50 years later some large commercial menageries were created in Lisbon and Oporto. It could have been their extent and their success which led to the idea of the creation of a true zoological garden in Lisbon. This was finally done in 1884, when a company of shareholders created the Garden of Zoology and Acclimatization of Lisbon. It was initially installed in the Parque de San Sebastio de Pedreira and later transferred to a nearby site named Parque de Palhaira. The zoo was finally settled on its permanent site in the Parque das Laranjeiras in 1905.

Because Portugal had colonies in Africa, America, Arabia, India, China and South-east Asia, it seems certain that some private individuals must have brought exotic animals from the colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, but the majority of Portuguese citizens did not have a chance to see wild animals until recently. Having just a single zoo in the whole of Portugal for almost a century, the Portuguese people could get in touch with exotic wildlife only through small travelling menageries or fairly big circuses which could present large mammals such as big cats, camels and elephants.

The Spanish cities in areas close to Portugal, like Vigo in the north or some cities in Andalusia, also did not have any zoos until about 20 or 30 years ago, when some small collections opened in tourist areas. But the history of Portuguese and Spanish zoos is closely related. In 1988 the Spanish Zoo Association was founded, and in 1999 the name was changed to AIZA (Asociación Ibérica de Zoos y Acuarios or its equivalent in Portuguese - see www.aiza.org.es), paying regard to the fact that some Portuguese zoos had joined the association. Today seven zoos in Portugal are members of AIZA, five are members of EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and two of WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums).

The APZA (Associação Portuguesa de Zoos e Aquária) was created in 2006 in response to the adoption into Portuguese law of new EU legislation relating to institutions, as well as more complex licensing processes and the reaction to epidemic diseases.

The second zoo in Portugal (Zoo da Maia) did not open until 1985, a century after Lisbon Zoo was founded in 1884. During the following years only a few collections opened, such as Zoo Lourosa close to Oporto in 1990 and Zoomarine in the Algarve in 1991. But in the last ten years more zoos have opened in Portugal, most of them with mainly commercial backgrounds, such as Badoca Safari in 1999, Zoo Lagos in 2000, Zoo Quinta S. Inácio in 2001 and Monte Selvagem in 2004. An exception was the opening of Omega Parque in the Algarve, which housed almost exclusively rare and endangered animals on loan from other European collections. Here animals were presented in a very 'uniberian' way, with plenty of space and many ways to hide from the public - in total contrast to the small cages and more 'visitor-oriented' way of exhibiting animals typical of most Spanish and Portuguese zoos.

The oldest aquarium in this country with its strong links to sea life and fishing is the Aquario Vasco da Gama in Cruz Quebrada, Lisbon. This historic aquarium was opened in 1898 and the museum and animals still occupy the original site. Today some seven aquariums and marine mammal collections exist in Portugal, most of them opened in the last few years.

In April 2007 we took a ten-day tour to see the most important and interesting of these collections and to visit the new Omega Parque in the south of Portugal, which unfortunately has announced that it is to be closed very soon. During our tour we learned that we were lucky to see a number of other collections which are on the point of changing their appearance or closing. So it was the right time to do a survey and get an impression of the current situation of zoos, zoo design and wild animal husbandry in Portugal.

The zoological collections of Portugal (from north to south)

1. Aquarium-Museu do Rio Minho, 4920 Vila Nova de Cerveira
This small aquarium was opened in June 2005. It is located on the Spanish border approximately 100 km north of Oporto.

2. Centro de Ciência Viva de Vila do Conde, 4480 Vila do Conde (www.viladoconde.cienciaviva.pt)
This scientific centre and science museum was opened to the public in March 2002. It is located approximately 35 km north of Oporto. The building dates from 1915 and is the former city jail (which was in use until the 1970s). In 1999 the city authorities decided to give this listed building a new function. An architectural award was given in recognition of the successful preservation of the shape and appearance of the circular building with its central yard. Centro de Ciencia Viva is a multifunctional centre for science and technology. The aim is to understand biology and technology by observation and experimentation. A 1,000-litre tank for saltwater fish from Portugal is the living exhibit in this institution. The University of Oporto is involved in the work at the centre. Visits must be pre-arranged.

3. Zoo da Maia, 4470 Maia (www.zoodamaia.pt)

4. Quinta S. Inácio, 4430 Avintes (www.zoosantoinacio.com)

5. Parque Biologico de Gaia, 4430 Avintes (www.parquebiologico.pt)

6. Estação Litoral da Aguda, 4410 Arcozelo (www.fundacao-ela.pt)

7. Zoo Lourosa, 4535 Lourosa (www.zoolourosa.com)

8. Parque Biológico da Serra das Meadas, 5100 Lamego
This 50-ha park, exclusively for native species, is located approximately 100 km east of Oporto. From the entrance the walkway leading around the park passes 15 enclosures for deer, mouflon sheep, wild boar and waterfowl. The interesting vegetation with many species of trees is regarded as a highlight in this park.

9. Parque Zoológico de Gouveia, 6290 Gouveia
The Zoo de Gouveia is a small zoo located between Oporto and Coimbra but much further inland. At the park they exhibit different species of deer, interesting native rare breeds of dogs and donkeys and some small mammals like civet cats.

10. Europaradise, 3140 Montemor o Velho (www.europaradise-park.com)

11. Zoo-Oeste, 2565 Ramalhal
Zoo-Oeste is the small zoo of an animal dealer. Again the collection is located on a quinta – an ex-farmland area. The dealer provides a small café for the people visiting the zoo. Large hoofstock from sitatunga to giraffe are kept in simple fenced paddocks. There is a pond for waterfowl with some geese, ducks and swans. Established in 1994, the site is only for dealing and thus for commercial purposes. One can find it about 50 km north of Lisbon.

12. Centro de Recuperação do Lobo Ibérico, 2669 Malveira (http://lobo.fc.ul.pt/)
The Iberian Wolf Recovery Centre was founded in 1987 to help rescue this subspecies (Canis lupus signatus). The people running the sanctuary insist on the fact that the IWRC is not a zoo. The seven-ha site is located 30 km north of Lisbon in an isolated valley with dense forest vegetation. Several packs of the wolves live in different enclosures. Information about each individual is provided for interested visitors. To visit the park is possible only with an appointment, which can be made by phone or mail. The entrance fee is €2.50.

13. Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa, 1549 Lisboa (www.zoo.pt)

14. Quinta Pedagógica dos Olivais, 1800 Lisboa (http://quintapedagogica.cm-lisboa.pt/)
This farm dealing with animal and agricultural matters was created for educational purposes. Here school groups especially, but also some tourists and private families, can learn about life on a farm and enjoy the contact with live domestic animals. Traditional handicrafts are shown to interested visitors. After being reopened in January 2005, the farm is open all day during the week. An appointment is only necessary for groups.

15. Oceanário de Lisboa, 1990 Lisboa (www.oceanario.pt)

16. Aquario Vasco da Gama, 1495 Cruz Quebrada (http://aquariovgama.marinha.pt/)

17. Parque Marechal Carmona, 2750 Cascais (www.cm-cascais.pt)
Located between the hippodrome and the harbour, this beautiful old park is a great place for people and visitors to relax in Cascais. The little village is located by the sea 30 km west of Lisbon. In the park a mini-zoo with some small mammals such as rabbits and porcupines as well as some typical birds like peacocks, pheasants, pigeons, parrots etc. can be seen. In the centre of the park visitors can enjoy a lake with swans, geese, ducks and pond turtles. People use this park for recreation, running and walking. A children's playground and an area for traditional Portuguese games can also be found. The 70-year-old park is open from morning to night during the summer months and some hours less in the winter.

18. Museu Oceanográfico, 2900 Portinho da Arrábida (www.azeitao.net/arrabida/forte.htm)
Museu Oceanográfico is a small museum with some fish tanks displaying the fish of the region. It is located in the historic fortress of Santa Maria da Arrábida. The building stands right by the sea 50 km south of Lisbon and some kilometres west of Setúbal. The region around the fortress is the beautiful Parque Natural da Arrábida, a national park famous for its vegetation, megalithic monuments and some historical buildings. In 1987 the fortress was integrated into the national park for public reasons and in 1991 the aquarium was built inside the fortress. The entrance fee to the fortress was €1.50.

19. Coudelaria de Alter do Chão, 7740 Alter do Chão (www.alterreal.pt)
The coudelaria ('stud farm' in Portuguese) is located a long way inland close to the Spanish border, about 220 km north-east of Lisbon. In 1996 the historic group of buildings was transformed into a tourist attraction and opened to the public. The 300-ha property is devoted to the breeding and conservation of the Lusitano horse, an old Iberian breed. Founded as a royal stud farm in 1748, the farm went through different periods of use. A museum on the site explains the developments, ups and downs. A falconry, historical buildings and sometimes horse events can be seen during a visit. A café is available for the public. The stud farm is open in the morning and afternoon, but closed over lunch time.

20. Fluviário de Mora, 7490 Cabeção/Mora (www.fluviariomora.pt)
Opened on 20 March 2007, the Fluviário de Mora is the largest river aquarium (fluviário) in Europe. More than 500 species of freshwater fish, aquatic reptiles such as the anaconda, and some amphibians are displayed in large and modern tanks, often open-topped. The educational aim is to explain about native Portuguese river ecosystems, but also to show some tropical rivers with piranhas, etc. Life in a lake is displayed and Mediterranean pond turtles (Mauremys leprosa) are shown. A highlight is the exhibit for the only mammal species – the Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea). Seeing them swimming under water in the small river bed and entering their burrow under water is quite amazing. In the first 12 days more than 10,000 people visited the collection in Mora, which is located about 100 km east of Lisbon. The entrance fee is €6.00.

21. Monte Selvagem, 7050 Montemor-o-Novo (www.monteselvagem.pt)

22. Insectozoo, 7940 Vila Ruiva (www.cappas-insectozoo.com.pt)
In 1998 Mr João Pedro Cappas e Sousa opened his museum for mainly social bees and other social insects he had worked on and with during the previous years. The entrance fee is €10.00 and a visit has to be arranged beforehand. Group sizes are up to 15 persons. The owner or one of his employees will guide the groups. The insect zoo is located 180 km south-east of Lisbon. During a visit one learns about the relationship between man and insects, and sees various species of termites and ants as well as bees and wasps.

23. Badoca Safari Park, 7501 Vila Nova de Santo André (www.badoca.com)

24. Zoonatura, 7700 Almodôvar
This small theme park is located about 75 km north of Faro in the Algarve region. Besides a children's zoo and some domestic species the park offers donkey rides and also carriage tours.

25. Omega Parque, 8550 Monchique

26. Parque Biológico da Serra de Silves (Centro Cinegético), 8300 Silves
This little collection is located in a dry and dusty valley close to Silves, about 15 km from the coast. The hoofstock such as wild boar, horses and ponies are housed in some paddocks. Birds like waterfowl live in concrete ponds, and some mammals - including large primates like olive baboons and small mammals like mongooses, rabbits etc. - live in a few extremely small and dark cages. Even the owners did not know about the exact size of their property, though they have apparently been running the place for 20 years. A Portuguese zoo insider told us that some of the animals were recently rescued from the park and taken to a sanctuary in Wales. At the time of our visit the park was still open to the public and - believe it or not - claimed to be dedicated to educational purposes for school children!

27. Krazy World - Algarve Zoo, 8365 Algôz (www.krazyworld.com)
In a review of the history of this place the management claim that it has been 'a fully fledged zoo' since the opening of 'Amazonia', which sports snakes, crocodiles and alligators. Krazy World theme park was opened in 1994 as a mini golf course. Proving to be very popular, it soon expanded and in 1996 the first animals - from ostrich to llama, wallaby, emu, goat and deer - arrived for the children's zoo. In 1998 camels arrived and the Amazonia complex was built to house 'spectacular' tropical animals like parrots and reptiles, and even for a daily crocodile show. Amazonia consists of several buildings and open-air exhibits. In 2007 at Krazy World 27 species of reptiles were kept, as well as nine species of mammals and eight of birds. The entrance fee of €17.50 perfectly demonstrates the purely commercial purposes of this theme park and thus a visit would be interesting merely for reptile specialists. The name 'Algarve Zoo' is a bit misleading, as this is just an exhibition of some animals between mini golf courses and some rides. Krazy World is located 13 km north of Albufeira.

28. Parque Zoológico de Lagos, 8600 Lagos (www.zoolagos.com)

29. Zoomarine, 8200 Albufeira (www.zoomarine.com)

30. Oásis Tropical Park and Aqua Show, 8125 Quarteira (www.aquashowparkhotel.com)
Aqua Show is a water theme park with various pools, slides and water fun events. Besides all this a parrot show and a bird of prey show are offered to entertain the visitors. In the latter a secretary bird is presented. At the Oásis Tropical Park more than 60 species of birds are exhibited, among them flamingos, toucans and parrots. The park is located on the Algarve coast road 125 a few kilometres west of Faro. The entrance fee in 2007 was €20.00.

31. Museu e Aquario Municipal do Funchal, 9004 Funchal
This aquarium is located on the island of Madeira in the historic palace of São Pedro. The collection of fish and other marine life was founded in 1929. The entrance fee in 2007 was €2.30. Besides the aquarium, the natural history museum and the official municipal library are located in the old building. The museum displays hundreds of mounted animals like sea birds, marine mammals and fish species in permanent exhibitions.

More places to see animals

32. Jardim da Alameda João de Deus, Faro
In Faro, the oldest garden in the Algarve, the 'Jardim da Alameda João de Deus' is very famous for its various old trees. Since its reopening in 2005 a lot of new vegetation has been planted, leisure facilities like mini-golf are being installed, and the old bird cages, waterfowl on the lake and freeranging peacocks are still on the site.

33. Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, 8700 Olhão
The nature park was founded in 1987 and covers an area of 184 km². Sixty km of the coastline are integrated with this park, the major part being around Faro where the most of the sand dunes and small islands are located. Just 5 km east of Faro the nature education centre of Marim is located. Here people can enter a 60-ha area which is part of the nature park. A visitor centre explains about the idea of the nature park. Fish breeding ponds, bird breeding areas, salt production and a bird sanctuary are open for visits. On this estuarine piece of land one finds wild chameleons, native wading birds, herons and waterfowl, interesting crustaceans like fiddler crabs (Uca tangeri) and a breeding station for a local dog breed, the Portuguese water dog. The symbol of the park is the purple swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio), which lives and breeds on the site. This scientific and tourist park gives a good impression of seashore life in the past and today. It is definitely worth a visit.


The zoological set-up in Portugal is very young and just starting to develop into a modern zoo scene. Species being exhibited are mostly common zoo animals easily available from dealers. Some of the zoological highlights are confiscated animals, as Portugal is a country with a long coastline and some harbours connected to European-African trade route - too many animals still come to Europe illegally in this way. We found 33 places where captive animals are exhibited to the public, some of which are aquariums, domestic animal breeding institutions and native animal parks. The standard of housing animals in Portuguese zoos gives serious grounds for concern. Warm, durable, stable houses for animals are hardly to be found. It seems as if the general attitude is still to invest the least for the animals' benefit and make the most money from them. Caring for the psychological well-being of an animal is definitely not an issue at most of the places discussed above. A person who is a 'rarity-hunter' could come to the conclusion that Lisbon is the 'secret zoo capital' of Europe, as here can be found a spectacular aquarium and a major zoo with almost all the 'VIP species' one can dream about. At Lisbon Zoo almost all the species one would consider keeping if the object was to make money are exhibited. The okapi and orang-utan are the latest additions to the collection. Even white tigers are on the site now! We really doubt whether there is any other city with such a number of crowd-pulling species available for people to see. Even the exceptionally popular sea otters are displayed in Lisbon! We are happy to have seen most of the Portuguese zoos and thus got a good overview of the situation in 2007. It will be interesting to follow the development of the zoos described above during the next ten years, and we are sure some five to ten more private commercial places like Lagos Zoo, Badoca Safari or Europaradise will have been opened in the meantime. Generally, though, one should be prepared for a country where the native life of fish, birds, reptiles and insects is so wonderful and rich that visiting zoos could become of secondary importance.

Jonas Livet and Olaf Paterok - 2007