This beautiful tortoise was listed as an endangered species by the US Government in 1973. In the last decade, its status has deteriorated from being classified as vulnerable to extinction, to critically endangered. People who traditionally live in its dry spiny forest habitat have a taboo against harming them. Recently, people from other parts of Madagascar have collected tens of thousands each year to eat or sell, and much habitat has been destroyed. A captive breeding program was established in the 1970s, and more than 400 live in US collections.
Most of the more than 2,000 species of geckos are nocturnal. Many are colored like bark, or in earth tones. In contrast, as their name implies, the 40 or so species of day geckos of the Indian Ocean are diurnal, and include some of the most brilliantly colored of the world’s reptiles. Instead of the cat-like slitted pupils of other geckos, they have round ones, giving them a “friendly” expression. The “Geico Gecko” in commercials is a day gecko. While some species are almost extinct, this one is abundant and often bred in zoos and private collections.
While the familiar Green anole, often seen in local gardens, may be called the “American Chameleon”, it is actually related to iguanas and basilisks. True chameleons are an entirely Old World family. Of the 160 or so species, about half are native to Madagascar. While difficult to maintain, with proper care the Panther chameleon, from Madagascar’s tropical forests, does well in captivity. Its especially brilliant and variable colors make it popular with reptile breeders and zoos. Males can grow to 20 inches in length.
This critically endangered freshwater turtle was long thought to be in the otherwise South American genus Podocmemis, which includes the Arrau and Yellow-spotted side-necked turtles, also displayed at the DWA. More recent research indicates it belongs in its own genus, but that its closest living relatives are South American, evidence of Madagascar and South America both being part of the Gondwana Super-Continent until it split apart approximately 135 million years ago. Efforts are underway to establish a captive-breeding program.
This beautiful snake is found in the rainforests across a large area of South America. Unlike its more famous relatives, the Boa constrictor and the Anaconda, it only reaches a length of about six feet. It has the longest fangs in proportion to its size of any living snake. Females give birth to as many as 20 young, which do not attain their bright green color until they are around nine months old. Until then, they are orange or dark red. In recent years it has been regularly bred in captivity.
Exceeding 20 feet in length and 300 pounds in weight, this famous South American snake is by far the largest of the boas, and is the heaviest of the world’s snakes (the Reticulated python from Asia may grow slightly longer). Anacondas give birth to live young, usually 20 to 40 at a time. With their eyes near the top and end of their heads, they are adapted to an aquatic environment, and most of their prey is taken in or near water. At the DWA, they are fed rats. The largest specimen here is 14 feet long.
This large species is similar to the American crocodile. The body is made up of scales (scutes) that vary in shape and strength. Orinoco crocodiles can be identified by the arrangement of dorsal (back) armor with six prominent scales on the back of the neck. Osteoderms (bony deposits within each scale) are rough in texture and are often different in color. Orinoco crocodiles have no osteoderms on their light colored belly, Another identifying feature of the Orinoco crocodile is the narrow snout which slopes upward near the tip. The nostrils are set at the end to allow breathing while mostly submerged. The tongue is wide and attached to the bottom of the mouth and does not aid in the capturing of prey. Their body color varies from gray-green, tan, to gray scattered with dark green. The legs are short and strong; the long tail is quite powerful.
A resemblance to a pile of rotting leaves serves this reptile well. When unaware small fishes swim too close, they disappear instantly — sucked in by a powerful vacuum created when it opens its jaws. Found in quiet water across a large area of tropical South America, it usually only comes onto land to lay its eggs. It rarely swims, preferring to walk underwater, taking air at the surface through the unique proboscis in front of its tiny eyes.