Postcards from Winter Camp: Rad Reptiles

Posted at 9:28 am December 28, 2005 by Lisa Townsend

 gharial A scaly, slithery, slippery ssssssuper time was had by all campers today! When we first got to the San Diego Zoo’s Otto Center this morning, Sunni, a Zoo educator, met us with an American alligator named Legarto. Sunni was holding Legarto on her arm – he’s still a baby – just about two feet (60 centimeters) long, and we all got to see and hear him. Sometimes he makes a low croaking noise just like when new hatchlings call to momma from the nest. Legarto was amazing with his (or her, we really can’t tell yet) gaping smile. Legarto will be too big for class in just a couple of years, but until then he (or she) sure makes a great impression.

Our next reptilian run-in was with the Indian gharials at the bottom of Reptile Mesa. Like the alligator, gharials are also in the crocodilian family but they are found in India and Pakistan. Keepers Barry and Kim went into the exhibit with a bucket of fish and nerves of steel to call the pair of gharials out onto the bank. They fed them using long tweezers (or pronged graspers) and stood right there next to them. It seemed that one swish with their enormous tail could send a keeper tumbling. But Barry and Kim have been working with the gharials for years and the animals know just what is expected and the keepers understand the temperament of the animals. Training gharials to come out of the water when called makes their care (husbandry) much less stressful for the animals. Keepers can check them for injuries or disease without having to give a shot to immobilize them.

This afternoon was set aside for some sensational snakes. We met three super serpents; Manja, Monty, and Tex. Manja is a Madagascar ground boa and he is BIG – over 5 feet (1.5 meters) long! He is a ” two-person” snake and it took two educators to keep his coils comfortable. Monty is a ball python; he looks similar to Manja, but is much smaller in diameter. Monty was very soft and smooth to the touch. Monty has been in the Zoo’s Education Department for years, he’s such a pro. Last we met Tex, the Mexican milk snake. Tex looks so dangerous – but that is a form of camouflage called mimickery. He fools animals into thinking he’s a venomous coral snake. Well, he didn’t fool us and we all got a touch!

So long for now – the sun has set and I’m starting to feel a little cold (blooded). Until tomorrow”¦ Lisa

Lisa Townsend is an educator at the San Diego Zoo.

Children in grades K to 5 can register for Spring Camp!

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