There are some statements about Tenerife which, when they turn up in travel articles or blogs, automatically result in an eyebrow raise.
One is any reference to the local cuisine being a mix of South American, Spanish, and African. The first two yes, the last one… well I’ve yet to see variations of chicken yassa, peanut soup or jollof rice on Canarian menus. Given the proximity to the continent and the history of the islands, the lack of strong African influences in the Canary Islands has always surprised me.
The other reference which has me doing a Roger Moore impression is when anyone uses Tenerife’s wildlife as a potential attraction. I’m talking about on terra firma here; the marine world is something completely different – a whale and dolphin watching safari is an emotional and exciting experience not to be missed. Seeing these creatures in the wild is a special travel moment. I’ve only briefly experienced diving below the waves, but that was also an exceptional and unforgettable experience.
On land it’s a different matter. There’s not a lot to see. There’s no big five, there’s not even a small five. There are some interesting birds, maybe not as exotic as some locations, but mildly interesting nonetheless – blue chaffinches, yellow Canaries, hoopoes, kestrels, buzzards, fish eagles, capirotes, Barbary partridge, and rare-ish pigeons among others. Oh, and there are escaped parrots who add their excited squawking to the soundtrack of some areas (Parque García Sanabria in Santa Cruz is a suitably tropical setting for parrot-spotting).
Ironically, one of the most fascinating bird-watching experiences we’ve had on Tenerife is watching scores of owls swooping and hunting from hotel balconies in Costa Adeje. It’s hardly sitting quietly in a hide, but hotel balconies can be good places for birdwatching. We’ve also spent nights captivated by the cartoon call of shearwaters.
But those are the birds.
What creatures make up, as one article I read put it, the ‘melting pot of fascinating animals’?
There are mouflon, the wild sheep introduced in the 1970s as potential big game to be hunted – a scheme which failed. Since then the mouflon have gone native and become adept at staying hidden. There are official culls twice a year to keep numbers down as they represent a danger to indigenous flora. These aren’t so much wild but possibly quite hacked off at being hunted twice a year. In years of walking across Tenerife we’ve never seen one in the wild, so I’d be quite thrilled about spotting one. Annoyingly a friend on his first foray into a ravine (Masca) was confronted by a family of mouflon, and shot footage on his phone to prove it.
Then there are rabbits, also incomers and also hunted… which is why they are on every traditional menu on the island. But spotting a rabbit sitting in a field is hardly going to set anyone’s pulse racing.
Goats can be pretty good value, especially when they strike ridiculous poses on the sheer sides of ravines. But, apart from the ones who escape and take to the hills, goats are livestock rather than wildlife. Talking of livestock, actually seeing some on Tenerife can be akin to spotting a rare animal as cows, sheep and pigs are not creatures you stumble across every day. Whenever we post photos of agriculture fairs we’ll regularly have someone commenting they’ve never seen sheep or cows on numerous visits to the island, but plenty exist. There are even dairy herds in the northern hills.
There are lots of lizards, from big-eyed geckos to coppery skinks. The most striking of all is the endemic Tenerife lizard whose bright blue spots and vibrant yellow stripes make it as pretty a lizard as you”ll see. They’re as common as muck and brave as lions, as anyone who’s tried to eat a cheese and ham sandwich near any colonies of them will know only too well. I’ve had them jump on my shoulder, rustle in my backpack and, in Anaga, even had to have a tug of war competition to stop one from making off with the last of my buttie. What’s not common and would constitute spotting relatively big game is to catch sight of the Tenerife lizard’s big brother – Gallotia intermedia who can grow to nearly thirty inches in length. It’s very, very rare and was only discovered in the Teno region in 1995.
If this comes across as me dissing Tenerife’s fauna, that’s not its purpose. It’s meant purely as a reality check. There is absolutely no point in raising potential visitors’ expectations to the point they believe they’re going to see ‘a wealth of wildlife’ when they take to the Tenerife hills. That way only leads to disappointment.
A lack of natural wildlife on land doesn’t matter at all when you’ve got the dizzying diversity of terrain that Tenerife has. We regularly tell people who haven’t visited the Canaries the islands offer some of the most varied walking you’ll find in European countries.
Just don’t expect to see herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the Ucanca plains.