World of Reptiles Conservatory Reopens

The World of Reptiles & Friends is one of the most unique experiences the Virginia Zoo has to offer. When you walk through the front doors, you are immediately greeted by a royal sight – the king cobra! As you wander deeper into the winding building, you can visit with many scaley, slimy, and scuttling friends. Guests can see the newest reptile and amphibian babies in the nursery, come face-to-face with a critically endangered Siamese crocodile and behold the larger-than-life reticulated python in the Hall of Giants. 

And now, after being closed for almost a year, the Conservatory is back open to complete your excursion! Here, you will be immersed in a tropical environment where natural light streams through expansive skylights and the soothing sounds of many unique bird species fills the air. In order to mimic the tropical environments our Conservatory residents are native to, the area is required to be kept warm and maintain a high level of humidity, and over time, the effects led to the need for aesthetic refinishing and extensive remediation. This area in the World of Reptiles closed in the spring of 2023 to receive the much-needed updates. 

Unfortunately, the original closure of the Conservatory was prompted by the unexplained deaths of animals who resided in the area. It didn’t take long for our staff to realize something was wrong and jump into action to find answers for and protect our beloved animals. When routine pathology reports and examinations were not providing any answers, animal care, veterinary care and leadership staff realized the cause could be environmental. All of the animals still residing in the Conservatory — including two-toed sloths, saki monkey and various bird species — were relocated to holding areas behind the scenes, the Conservatory was thoroughly inspected by environmental quality professionals and extensive pathology tests were performed. Over the next few months, the discovery that both fungus and a difficult-to-detect, rare strain of encephalomyocarditis virus (EMCV) were present. While the fungus is not believed to have contributed to the animal deaths, a full remediation of the area was conducted and routine preventative testing was implemented. Ultimately, it was concluded that EMCV was the cause of the unexpected losses. EMCV is a virus that many zoos around the world have battled in recent decades and is believed to be contracted from infected rodent fecal matter when ingested. The virus has primarily been documented in mammals and non-human primates, with cases in large animals, like African elephants, to small animals, like marmosets, and many in between. 

Upon the discovery of EMCV, the Virginia Zoo and the City of Norfolk immediately began remediation efforts as thoroughly and efficiently as possible in order to protect the animals that call the Zoo home. While the Zoo already had pest control in effect, more aggressive actions have been implemented throughout the property. We are pleased to announce no positive EMCV cases have been found at the Virginia Zoo in almost a year; however, mitigation and prevention remain a top priority.  

These unexpected losses were heart-breaking to our Zoo community, but we are thankful for all of the hard work and support the Zoo received in identifying and rectifying the cause. We are now working towards putting the situation behind us and looking forward to the future of the Conservatory. Many of your favorite Conservatory mammals will remain off exhibit for now as we begin a full remodel on their habitats to create more engaging spaces for the animals and guests alike. Additionally, we plan to bring in a new, impressive, large-scale reptile species who will thrive in the humidity. In the meantime, make sure to stop in to visit with the beautiful array of feathered friends who have moved back into the Conservatory! 

Questions? Please contact Virginia Zoo Director of Communications at [email protected]