BROWNSVILLE — Visitors such as Beeville residents Fred and Belinda Barrera now can learn about and see two Mangshan pit vipers, along with other new animals, at Gladys Porter Zoo’s newly renovated herpetarium.
“It’s awesome to have (the zoo) have stuff like this because we’d probably never see them in a lifetime,” Fred Barrera said during a recent zoo visit.
The Barreras were on vacation at South Padre Island when they decided to make the drive to the zoo.
“We’re going to come back again,” Belinda Barrera said. “If you’re going to (the Island), you have to come and see this. It’s worth the drive to come and see this.”
Mangshan pit vipers were discovered recently and can grow up to 8 feet long, according to Zoo Director Patrick Burchfield. They are venomous and come from the Hunan and Guangdong provinces in China.
The zoo has a male and female on display in its new exhibit, which contains a misting and cooling system to accommodate the animals’ needs.
Mangshan pit vipers are classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. They require substantial reduction in ambient temperature in order to cycle for breeding.
In addition to the Mangshan pit vipers, six new or renovated exhibits allowed the zoo to provide better habitats and add new animals, such as Caiman lizards, Gaboon vipers, green tree pythons, West Texas snakes, Mexican jumping vipers and smoky jungle frogs.
“We took some small cage units and made fewer larger units with better habitats for the species that we’re putting in them, specifically designed for the species that we’re putting in them,” Burchfield said.
Ashley Ortega, head keeper of reptiles and amphibians, said the increase of room in the habitats will allow animals, such as the Caiman lizards, to grow bigger in a healthy state.
“These lizards, they get pretty big,” Ortega said. “The exhibit that we had before was great for juveniles. So, once we did the renovations and got a bigger exhibit, we thought they’d be perfect because they will get pretty large.”
The Caiman lizard exhibit is located in the center of the herpetarium and is the largest on display. It features a front design with larger windows framed in realistic-looking tree limbs.
Renovations also removed the tiled barrier that divided the main tour route through the herpetarium and replaced it with new life-scape trees. The addition allows for more traffic and is designed to complement the atmosphere of the herpetarium.
The renovations cost $87,000 and were funded through Zoofari 2016 attendees who contributed to the event’s Fund-A-Need campaign.
“There’s always something new and different at the zoo, and if (visitors) come frequently, they’ll get to enjoy these changes and be a part of them,” Burchfield said.