Me and Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo's
22-foot long reticulated python (Python reticulatus)
22-foot long reticulated python (Python reticulatus)
A few weeks ago, I visited the Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo near San Antonio, Texas. Formerly known as The Snake Farm Zoo, Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo (AWSFZ) has grown much since I last visited in 2001. Now, more than 10 years later, I'm back. Having received much media attention on Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, the zoo has expanded its operations and staff by twofold.
|Jarrod (left), Bart (center), and I holding an 18-foot long tiger reticulated python|
Jarrod: General manager, animal expert, venomous snake and croc specialist, world-class bull rider, and fitness model, Jarrod is the driving force behind AWSFZ. I first met him while he was giving a demonstration on Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) cubs. His gregariousness and expertise were immediately evident and I struck up a conversation with this big cat expert only to find out that his specialties also include venomous snakes and crocodiles. With over 20-years of experience working with animals, Jarrod's leadership keeps the zoo running smoothly and his passion for wildlife keeps the animals happy and healthy.
|Jarrod and a central American bushmaster, the largest venomous snake in the western hemisphere|
|Bart carefully handling a bushmaster|
Bartolo "Bart" : Bart first started his work at the zoo at the age of 13. His passion for reptiles runs deep and his knowledge, built over years through hands-on experience, makes him Jarrod's trusted second-in-command. As a testament to Bart's expertise, he is the only person allowed in the Croc Pond during Jarrod's feeding demos (check out my posts for more detail on the croc feeding demo); it is up to Bart to keep Jarrod alive if things go wrong. Bart's keen sense of observation and his 6th sense of animal behavior never cease to amaze.
Founded in 1967, the Snake Farm Zoo or AWSFZ has a long history of providing visitors with an unparalleled experience with animals. The zoo houses more than 500 different species of animals, from macaws and marmosets to hyenas and bison. And, of course, snakes and croc remain a huge attraction.
For me, the diversity of exotic snakes, from boomslangs to mangshan vipers, is the crown jewel of AWSFZ. It's a privilege to be able to work with so many different species of snakes, some of which I didn't even know existed.
A Day in the Life
While the cliche of "everyday is different" holds, here's a quick peak into a day at the zoo:
7:00 am: Arrive and begin husbandry protocols for display animals. This means cleaning shed skin, water bowls, etc. to make sure that the animals on display are ready for showtime (with close to 150 snakes on display, it takes quite a while to go through everything).
9:45 am: Go the "kitchen" to prepare lettuce, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, bananas and other fruits and vegetables for the tortoises, fruit bats, and vegetarian lizards. My food prep and knife skills come in handy ;) After all, the animals I'm cutting the food up for have small mouths and require finely diced veggies.
10:00 am: Head to the back room to divide up the vegetables into little bowls for the animals. Gotta make sure I account for everyone.
10:10 am: Load up the food cart and head out to serve up the veggies.
10:30 am: With the food cart empty, I go back to the back room and start caring for the educational snakes, breeding specimens, and specialty specimens that aren't quite ready for display. With close to 30 snakes under my care, it takes a lot of time to make sure each is healthy and in top physical condition.
11:00 am: Snake Encounter! I bring out a few of the educational snakes for the public. After giving a brief talk on the natural history, biology, and anatomy of the particular snake, I pass the snake around to everyone and anyone who wants to touch or hold the specimen.
11:15 am: Time to put up the educational snakes. After they're safely tucked away in their enclosures, I help Bart take care of the Asian river otters (Aonyx cinerea). These cute little bundles of joy actually are quite nippy and won't hesitate to chew on your finger with inch long canines if you let them. Even so, they're super adorable.
12:30 pm: Time for lunch. The temperature at this point is triple-digits and it's just too hot to move around. The visitors are still pouring in, however, so the rest of the staff are out doing their rounds.
1:00 pm: Back to work. Jarrod usually does a presentation on Mountain Lion cubs (Puma concolor). Angel and Ashley are two sisters who were born at another zoo and raised by Jarrod. A third cub, Edward, is a bit rowdier than the sisters but is still really cute.
1:45 pm: Down time. With most of the daily tasks completed, it's time to take a break, drink some water and sit down for a change. I usually take this time to chat with my fellow staff members and to help out with any office/computer work that I can; it's great to kick back and people watch.
2:15 pm: Animal encounter: Time to take out another snake for the public. Sometimes I like to change it up and bring out a juvenile gator for the public to touch and interact with. It's great to see wide-eyed children and adults overcome their fears to touch or hold a snake or gator.
3:00 pm: Live Animal Demonstration: Jarrod presents a few animals to the crowd. He talks about the unique aspect of each species and lets the children hold and pet them. Seeing the master at work is really inspiring; learning from books is one thing, but learning from years of hands-on experience (and mistakes) is another.
3:30 pm: We put the animals up and do our last rounds, feeding cavys and capybara, spraying the animals to cool them down, office/computer work, and other tasks that weren't finished earlier that day.
4:15 pm: Snake Encounter: The 4:15 pm encounter is always an adventure. We take out Hercules, one of the biggest stars at AWSFZ. At 12'6" and over 90 lbs, Hercules is an albino burmese python (Python bivitattus) with the disposition of a puppy dog. It's always a laugh to see people struggling to hold up the massive snake, smiling while they do it.
|Hercules the Burmese python, our star attraction|
5:00 pm: After putting Hercules back into his enclosure, it's time for last minute loose ends. After a long, hard day of work, it's great to go around at a relaxed pace to see if anyone needs help with anything, whether that be diagnosing a sick turtle or thinking about future enclosures for animals. Afterwards, it's time to chill with the staff, answer questions from the public, and have a moment to breathe and enjoy my time at AWSFZ.
6:00 pm: I pack up my gear and head home. Better get some sleep tonight because tomorrow will be another adventure.
|The croc team after another successful Croc Demo|
(left to right: Sarah, Dan, Bart, me, Jarrod, Gary)
Part of my job is taking care of specimens in the back room, which houses over 80 snakes, some of which are venomous. Here are a few shots:
|The Madagascar Hognose Snake (Leioheterodon madagascariensis)|
A gorgeous (but temperamental) Tarahumara Red-tail boa (Boa constrictor imperator)
One of our educational snakes, a ball python (Python regius) named Vanessa