I don’t like zoos. Animals aren’t meant to be locked up in cages for humans to stare at them. It’s not natural. Animals belong in the wild.
Because of these beliefs, there was no way I was going to visit the zoo in Cuenca. No way.
In my mind, a first world zoo is one thing, but a zoo in a developing country was going to be worse. Much worse. I didn’t want to go.
Amaru Zoo in Cuenca
But a friend from our Spanish school went and said we must visit Amaru Zoo. “It’s unlike any zoo I’ve ever been too,” she told us, eyes wide as she pointed to the photos on her iPad. “The animals are practically roaming free – they could leave if they want to but they choose to stay.”
The photos looked pleasant. There weren’t any concrete cages and the animals looked healthy.
She was swaying me. “I think we should go,” Dave said. “I reckon it’ll be good.”
And that was how I found myself hiking up to the Amaru Zoo in Cuenca’s south-east side yesterday.
The rustic yet charming zoo
From the get go it was evident this wasn’t an ordinary zoo. The paths are all dirt and a rickety boardwalk leads you up to the entrance. It’s rustic. But it’s charming.
The zoo is set on the side of a mountain so we spent the whole time walking up a hill to look at the animal exhibits. It’s a great hike, but probably not suited to the elderly or those in a wheelchair. Parents should leave their prams at home too.
The zoo’s designer has made the best of the mountainside and built all the enclosures into the cliff-face giving the animals sprawling grounds to roam around in.
Free to have fun
We spent a good three hours in the zoo and true to my Spanish school friend’s word, there were animals running around free.
A cuchuchos had escaped from its enclosure and was trying to scale the fence and get back in. Never before had I seen an animal trying to get back into its cage.
The Andean bear’s enclosure was almost a park in itself, stretching far and wide. The bear wasn’t roaming free though, although I did feel he could’ve easily climbed a tree and got out if he wanted to.
My favourite part of the afternoon was watching the big cats. The pumas were hand fed raw meat through the cage right in front of us. I’d never seen that before.
The jaguars were so close to me that I could’ve reached out and touched them. Literally. There was wire mesh at the bottom of the cage and I could’ve stuck a finger in…
The macaws weren’t in cages and were just sitting in the trees scattered throughout their area of the zoo. The monkeys were running around everywhere, climbing all over the zoo keepers to steal food out of their pockets.
The only animals looking a little unhappy was an Andean deer who clearly wanted another deer to keep it company, and the condor. I don’t think the condors should be kept in a zoo. They’re meant to soar above canyons and having him locked in a cage (even if the cage was enormous) just didn’t feel right.
A pleasant afternoon trip
But all in all, considering there’s hundreds of animals in the zoo, I was pleasantly surprised by the way the animals were being treated.
The enclosures have been built to mimic the natural habitat of the animals as closely as possible and there wasn’t a concrete slab in sight.
In fact, I’d probably go as far as to say it was the best zoo I’ve ever been to.
I never thought I’d find my favourite zoo in South America.
I’m still not a pro-zoo person but I think all zoos could learn something from Amaru Zoo – the more natural a zoo is in its setting, the more the animals will enjoy being kept in captivity.
What’s the best or worst zoo you’ve ever been to?
What you need to know:
Cost: It’s US$4 entry for an adult. This is an absolute bargain. In comparison, entry to the zoo in my home town of Perth is something like $27 for an adult.
How to get there: The zoo is opposite the Hospital del Rio, on the other side of the highway and up the mountain. You have to turn right off the highway and onto a dirt track which winds its way up to the zoo. It can be hard to miss but it is signposted as Amaru Zoologica. A taxi from the centre of Cuenca costs around $4 – $5. It’s easy getting one there but you might have to call one to get back, or hitch a ride with a family heading back into town like we did.
When to go: The Amaru Zoo is open 9am – 6pm Monday to Friday, and 10am – 5pm Saturday, Sunday and public holidays.
Anything else: Don’t bring any food as you won’t allowed to bring it into the grounds. Considering there are monkeys running around, the food wouldn’t stay in your possession for long anyway. There’s a cafe halfway through the zoo walk if you want to grab a bite to eat. Bottled water’s allowed.