Anniversary of the World of Reptiles

Despite the Zoo closing in mid-March due to the pandemic, big things have still been happening. We’re making plans for an official reopening, the Zoo’s Emergency Operations Fund has reached more than $50,000 in donations from our community and we’ve had several births including five major births – Trey the sloth, Blip and Jax the bongos, Luther the Malayan tapir and most recently, a male Masai giraffe calf waiting to be named.

The cherry on top is the World of Reptiles being open for two years today! We’re celebrating with an interview from Lead Reptile Keeper Dennis McNamara, who explains the changes and additions to the building since our doors have closed, and what Zoo visitors can expect to see when they return.

What’s different in the World of Reptiles: new exhibits and species?

We previously had two Mangshan vipers living behind-the-scenes, but have now moved them on exhibit. The pair have acclimated well and are a gorgeous addition. A pair of green keel-bellied lizards was recently acquired and has been introduced to their exhibit. We also moved a trio of Spotted turtles to one of the tubs in the Bog turtle outdoor area. There have also been some additions through breeding, including a baby Madasgascar day gecko.

Besides the new additions, we have upgraded exhibits for other species and even grouped species together on exhibit. The Cantil viper upgraded to a slightly larger exhibit. The green basilisks were moved into the Caiman lizard and mata mata exhibit. Staff added a rain chamber to the Frog Lab to encourage breeding of some of our tree frog species, which typically breed in the “rainy season”. We also have a few more moves on the way, so stay tuned.

Has the Reptile Nursery seen any babies lately?

We had the day gecko born and have had frilled lizards hatch in the past few months. There were also two giant geckos born recently.

Introduce us to the new human faces that will be seen around the World of Reptiles.

Darcy Garrenton (below) joined the Reptile Team at the end of 2019.

Rebecca Simpson (below), a former Virginia Zoo Rover Keeper, became a Reptile Keeper at the end of 2019 as well.

The full team includes Reptile Keeper John Wyatt (below left) and myself (below right).

male zoo keeper smile and holds prehensile-tailed skink in both hands Zoo keeper holds Annulated boa in both hands

Are there any other new animals we can expect to see inside the World of Reptiles?

There is a new pair of Arboreal Alliigator lizards on exhibit, and a family group of Prehensile tailed skinks are also now on exhibit.

Are the bog turtles on exhibit?

Now that the weather has warmed up, the bog turtles are out and about and can be seen basking on land or with their heads out of the water.

What’s been the most exciting memory in the last year?

The most exciting memory would be the training of Shady, our Siamese crocodile, to come out on land when we ask her to. She will come up to us and eat croc pellets and move about the land area of the exhibit when we cue her to those spots using a hollow bamboo pole.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The staff have worked very hard to keep our collection happy and healthy during this uniquetime. We are very lucky to have our jobs, while working with a great team and amazing animals. We can’t wait for visitors to be able to come back and enjoy the animals and exhibits that we have put so much effort into.

Be sure to stay tuned to the Zoo’s social media for updates on reopening dates and procedures.