June 4, 2010

Meet the latest Zoo visitor

7' African Dwarf Crocodile

Four reptiles who've been free-loading at the Racine Zoo since May 18 deigned to pose for photographs this morning.

Sort of.

Three crocs, and a 150-year-old (more or less) Alligator Snapping Turtle, were taken into custody in Milwaukee last month when hundreds of reptiles were discovered in appalling conditions in a home and warehouse belonging to a man wanted for sexual assault. At that point, the reptiles were "evidence" to be kept under wraps by the various zoos called to take them in. WTMJ has photos of what animal control experts first found when they went to the building to take the reptiles into custody as evidence.

Well, they are "no longer evidence," Racine Zoo director Jay Cristie said this morning. That may be explained by the arrest of Terry Cullen, a reptile expert who was arrested and charged with trapping and sexually assaulting a woman in his home.

In any case, Christie led me through the basement of the Zoo's Vanishing Kingdom this morning, where the crocs were ensconced in individual cages, each with water and a plywood deck to crawl upon. The turtle slept (?) in a blue wading pool. None showed any interest at all in our presence; two of them -- an 8-ft. long African Slender Snouted Croc and a 7-ft. long species yet undetermined -- stayed mostly out of sight, under benches.

The crocs show a little more enthusiasm at feeding time. Dinner is fresh frozen rats, warmed under a heat lamp, and maybe some fish, according to the Zoo's animal care specialist Theresa Donarski. Food for the four costs about $20 per day, paid for by the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission.

The Zoo has no plans to put the crocs on public display. In fact, it already has two crocs of its own that are displayed only on rare occasions. Yet to be determined is the reptiles' eventual destinations. Christie believes one may belong to a Miami Zoo. The crocs' availability has been posted on Zoo listservs, Christie says, "but no peers are holding open any croc exhibits hoping to get one of these." So far, anyway.

A member of the Zoo's Board of Directors, Dr. Greg Mayer, a professor at UW-Parkside, will examine them soon. Fecal tests have already shown that they reptiles are not infected with parasites.

 One very big Alligator Snapping Turtle, oblivious to visitors 

Since we were at the Zoo anyway, we stopped in to see how lion cubs Badu and Zuka are doing. Here they are, playing with Mom Elsa in their display exhibit, charming -- with much more personality than the crocs, it must be said -- scores of young school children this morning.