Fuerteventura Oasis Park: 'Despite their dubious oral hygiene, the sea lions are the park's megastars'

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The Independent Travel

Animals as fashion accessories? Totally uncool. Paris Hilton and Britney Spears may still insist on working that look, but right-minded grown ups, of course, know better.

So why is that when a gung-ho young reptile keeper drapes a fully-grown python round my neck, I find myself feeling (the shame of it) dangerously glamorous? Is it just that said reptile keeper is a Steve Irwin soundalike with sun-and-surf-bleached hair? Or is it down to the trio of supercool teens at my elbow, egging me on in this unprecedented display of bravery?

Perhaps it's just because Oasis Park Fuerteventura's large, leafy and enjoyable zoo is rather good at breaking down our animal hang-ups. Camels, which were once pressed into service as unpaid labourers on Canarian farms, don't have to be belligerent; kit them out in a smart saddle and they make willing steeds for a stroll around the edge of the park. Monkeys don't have to be cheeky; here, the marmosets are butter-wouldn't-melt cute. Crocodiles don't have to be scary or not when there's a fit young keeper on hand, anyway. And sea lion kisses... well, I can't truthfully say they don't have to be fishy.

Despite their dubious oral hygiene, sea lions are the park's megastars, their daily performances are virtuoso displays. The entertainment team also put macaws, eagles, owls and falcons through their paces. But there are plenty of other appealing animals at Oasis Park, too, from snooty-looking flamingoes and perky meerkats to hyperactive coatis (large, racoon-like animals from South America). An African safari zone is home to hippos, zebras and giraffes, and there's a fabulous tropical bird section, its large walk-in aviaries fluttering with exotics such as violet turacos.

As at any zoo, new arrivals are big news, and Oasis Park is currently nurturing a baby giraffe, two baby sea lions, one cottontop tamarin and three absurdly fluffy little eagle owls.

Cute and amusing animals and birds are by no means the only attractions, however adjoining the zoo, and included in the entrance fee, is La Lajita's Jardí*Botánico. Laid out on a sloping plot the size of 20 football pitches, this inspirational garden is stuffed with Europe's largest collection of drought-loving plants: cacti, succulents and palms. It's a wonderfully surreal assortment of bulbous, spiky and furry specimens.

Oasis Park (00 34 902 400434; fuerteventuraoasispark.com ) lies just outside La Lajita on Carretera General de Jandía, the main road to Fuerteventura's southern resorts, and is open daily, 9am6pm. Entrance 18, children aged 311 10; camel rides 7, children aged 311 4.50. Complete guided tour with camel rides and buffet lunch 41, children half price. A free bus service to the park operates from the major resort areas of Costa Calma and Jandía (twice a day) and from Esquinzo, Caleta de Fuste and Corralejo (once a day), returning in the afternoon.