Reptiles Alive visits the National Zoo

Had a great time visiting with some old friends and colleagues at the National Zoological Park (NZP) in Washington DC.

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First, we went to see the legendary Janis Gerrits, Senior Keeper at the Reptile Discovery Center (RDC).  Janis is a former Reptiles Alive keeper who left us in 2003 to join the NZP team.   The Zoo is very lucky to have Janis – she is a top notch reptile keeper.  She has an amazing ability to know an animal’s needs.

Here she is demonstrating target training with a monitor lizard.

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Why bother training a monitor lizard at a zoo?

Monitors are very intelligent animals that need something to do.  By training an animal at the zoo, it makes their life more comfortable and interesting.  The monitor in this video has become at pro at target training thanks to Janis’s expertise in training reptiles.

Speaking of monitor lizards, we couldn’t visit the zoo without saying hello to Murphy the Komodo Dragon! What a handsome lizard he is, and big!  I was amazed as how calm he was around Janis.  (You can see Murphy’s head behind the glass of this picture of  Janis.)

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We were very impressed with what Janis has accomplished at the National Zoo.  The animals were all healthy and their enclosures were super clean and well designed.  The enclosures had real live plants in them and very cool rock work.  The animals all had nice comfy places to hide while allowing the public to still see them.

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After spending the morning hanging out with Janis and all the awesome animals at the RDC, we headed down to the Bird House to meet up with the renowned former Reptiles Alive Wildlife Educator and Keeper – Reade Harbitter.

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Reade left Reptiles Alive to become a full time Bird Keeper at NZP about 2 years ago.  Although we specialize in reptiles, both me and Jen love birds too.  She introduced us to some of her favorite feathered friends, including a toucan, some rheas, and lots of other exotic and strange birds.

As we were leaving the zoo, a car pulling out of the parking lot started honking.  I looked over and saw my friend and colleague Debbie Grupenhoff!  Debbie and I used to work together at the Reston Animal Park way, way back.  I had not seen her in years and I was so surprised!  Debbie said she is now working at the zoo’s commissary.  That is so cool – a professional chef for the animals!

What a fantastic day we had.  Thank you Janis and Reade for the tours.

The zoo is a great way to get close to nature in the big city.  Tell us about your trip to the zoo!

Creature Feature: Nile Monitor Lizard

Nile Monitor Lizard

Varanus niloticus

Reptiles Alive Name: “Logan”nile_monitor

Hissstory: On September 2, 2000, a person having breakfast looked out their window and saw a “Komodo Dragon” hanging on their bird feeder.  He called the Wildlife Center of Virginia and explained the situation.  The Wildlife Center was able to capture the dragon, which turned out to be an escaped or abandoned African Nile monitor lizard.  The Wildlife Center called us, and we agreed to provide the monitor lizard with a home.

RA Diet: Logan loves to eat dead mice, roaches, crickets, and sometimes, cooked chicken eggs.

Natural Diet: These huge, carnivorous lizards eat just about anything!  Insects, eggs (including crocodile eggs), snakes, rodents, other lizards, birds, and even baby crocodiles can all be dinner for a Nile monitor lizards.

Range: Most of Africa including northern Egypt to Sudan and south to South Africa.

Habitat: If there is a river or lake or other water source, and you are in Africa, you are probably in Nile monitor habitat.

Size: Nile monitors are one of the largest lizards in the world.  They can grow 5-7 feet long. The record is 8 feet long.

Life span: Monitors can live over 20 years.

Reproduction: Nile monitors lay 10-60 eggs in a nest they dug in the ground. They especially like making nests inside of termite mounds. The eggs will incubate around 9-10 months. When they hatch, Baby monitors are only 6-8 inches long, but they will grow to 20 inches in a year.

Conservation: Threats include habitat loss,  and poaching for bush meat and the skin trade. Nile monitors are protected under CITES Appendix II.

There are several large populations of these lizards throughout Florida. People illegally released them into the wild after they were no longer wanted as pets. Nile monitors eat nearly any animal, making them a threat to native American wildlife. There are no natural predators for them in the United States. Current evidence suggests that total eradication of this species from Florida is no longer feasible and the population may be spreading!

Cool Facts: Scientists have found out recently that female Nile monitors often come back to their nests when the babies are beginning to hatch. She will help the babies by gently digging the eggs and hatchlings out of the ground.