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New Zoo Reptile shows entertain, educate

By Gheni_Platenburg
June 10, 2011 at 1:10 a.m.

Robbie Fauvergue coaxes her grandson, 2-year-old Luca Dangerfield, into petting a bearded dragon during a reptile show at the Texas Zoo. The daily shows take place at 11 a.m. and  include  lizards, alligators, snakes and other air-breathing vertebrates,   such  Pecos Bill, a tiny Texas tortoise, shown above.

If You Go:

Where: The Texas Zoo, 110 Memorial Drive, Victoria

What: Reptile shows are at 11 a.m. daily, while the keeper chats are at 2 and 3 p.m. daily.

Cost: The shows are free with regular zoo admission

For more information: Log onto texaszoo.org/default.aspx, or check out the Texas Zoo on Facebook

African Spurred Tortoise

Scientific name: Geochelone sulcata

Range: A 500 km strip of the sub-Saharan African continent

Habitat: Semi-arid, urbanisation or pastures, and deforestation areas, grass and shrub lands

Status: Endangered

Diet in the wild: 100 percent herbivorous diet, dried grass and leaves; prefers morning-glory plants

Diet in the zoo: baled-alfalfa, Purina Pure Pride horse chow, grass and plants and assorted fruits and vegetables

Size and weight: Spurred tortoises are the largest of all mainland tortoises and third largest of all tortoises. They can weigh up to 200 pounds. This could be because of the harsh natural habitat, Sahara that equips the spurred tortoise with the ability to grow rapidly. The hatchling is 6-10 inches and grows quickly in the first few years of their lives. They mature in approximately 25 years.

Life span: Spurs can live for more than 100 years

Physical description: They get their name from two to three large spurs located on their thighs. This species has many adaptations and behaviors for living in a dry environment. Thick skin prevents loss of moisture.

Behavior: They are active in the morning and evening, spending the hottest part of the day underground. Their diet of succulent plants provides them with water, and they coat their skin with mud to cool off. Spurred tortoises are important to deserts because their burrows provide shelter for other animals.

Pets: They make wonderful pets due to their inquisitive nature, responsiveness to its owners and great personality. They are low-maintenance, requiring outside housing, annual veterinary visits, and no vaccines.

SOURCES:

SEAWORLD.ORG/ANIMAL-INFO/ANIMAL-BYTES/ANIMALIA/EUMETAZOA/COELOMATES/DEUTEROSTOMES/CHORDATA/CRANIATA/REPTILIA/TESTUDINES/AFRICAN-SPURRED-TORTOISE.HTM

WHOZOO.ORG/INTRO2001/KIMSTAGG/KES_AFRICANSPURREDTURTLE.HTMPETCAREGT.COM/TURTLE/AFRICAN-SPURRED-TORTOISE.HTML

PHOENIXHERP.COM/JOOMLA/IMAGES/PHOENIXHERP/PDFS/ AFRICAN%20SPUR%20TORTOISE.PDF

African spurred tortoises like to graze upon grass and plants all day.

Lily Ana Flores, of Austin, learned this fact not from a science book or a show on the Animal Planet network, but rather from observing Joe, a real live African spurred tortoise, during one of the Texas Zoo's new Reptile Shows.

"He's never going to stop eating," a giggly 6-year-old Lily Ana said while watching Joe munch on a buffet-style patch of grass.

Joe is one of several animals featured as part of the zoo's daily reptile shows, which include tortoises, turtles, lizards, alligators and snakes.

The shows, which started on May 31, are at 11 a.m. daily and include zoo staff presenting the reptiles out of their exhibits for zoo visitors to see and, in most cases, touch.

"A lot of zoos have some type of live show, whether it be birds or reptiles. It is fun for people to learn more about the animals than they would from just looking at the signage," said Andrea Blomberg, executive director of the zoo. "It adds to the whole zoo experience."

The reptile show, which is for people of all ages, along with new and revamped exhibits have paid off when it comes to attracting zoo visitors.

Admission increased from 5,000 plus visitors in May 2010 to more than 6,000 visitors this May, said Blomberg.

Victoria resident Maxine Hawes, who unexpectedly came across the reptile show during a zoo visit with her grandson, quickly became a fan.

"I was excited to learn about the snakes. (My grandson) lives near a creek and there are lots of snakes in his backyard. We've been trying to teach him about different snakes in the area," said Hawes, 60. "I was happy to hear (Blomberg) talk about which ones are venomous, and which ones aren't."

The snake presentation also resonated with 4-year-old Gavin Flores.

"Don't touch the snakes in the backyard," said Gavin, as he confidently repeated a lesson learned during the show.

In-depth animal presentations at the zoo have not stopped with just reptiles.

Often done at larger zoos, animal keepers at the Texas Zoo have begun chatting with zoo guests twice a day about all specific exhibits, eventually rotating through all of the animals for which they are responsible.

"A lot of people enjoy learning more about the animals they see, more than just facts," said Blomberg. "They want to learn more about Melvin the Baird Tapir, more about Melvin's likes and dislikes."

Zoo guests can also check out Toni the otter's renovated exhibit, which went back on display at the end of April; the revamped alligator exhibit, which went back on display on May 31; as well as Victoria the grey fox and her three new babies, who are now just over 1 month old.

Other new additions to the zoo include new parking spaces; landscaping complete with donated plants from Walmart; covered sitting areas; and misting fans.

"We're focused on providing more for people to do here," said Blomberg. "I hope they have fun and take away one or two tidbits of information."

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