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L.A. Zoo Debuts Rare and Endangered Snake Babies

1_Los Angeles Zoo Baby Cape Cobra by Tad Motoyama

Two deadly African Snake species have taken up residence at the Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles (LAIR) exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo for the first time in the Zoo’s history. The Zoo also welcomed a baby boom of 50 plus snakes from six different species.

Perhaps the most well known of the new inhabitants are a pair of Cape Cobras, a highly venomous species of cobra found across southern Africa that is known to raise its fore-body off the ground and spread its hood when feeling nervous or threatened.

“We’re really excited to welcome this species of snake to the collection for the first time,” said Ian Recchio, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at the Los Angeles Zoo. “Our visitors often ask if we have cobras because they are a popular and highly-recognizable species of snake, and now we can offer our guests the chance to safely view one of nature’s most unique animals.”

One of the deadliest snake species in Africa, the Cape Cobra’s powerful neurotoxic venom is the most potent of any African Cobra and when bitten, victims require urgent hospitalization and treatment. This particular species of cobra is also highly polymorphic and can come in a variety of vibrant patterns and colors including speckled polka dots, lemon yellow, and different shades of brown and gray. The LAIR now has two Cape Cobras: a young sibling pair from Zoo Atlanta, which are a unique yellowish-beige in color and three feet long.

Also from Africa, the LAIR now exhibits four extraordinarily rare Ethiopian Mountain Vipers, born at the San Diego Zoo. Found only in remote areas in Ethiopia, there is very little known about the natural history of this highly venomous species. And, like the Cape Cobra, its appearance is also very striking and unique with beautiful lemon yellow and black geometric patterns on their bodies.

The LAIR has also experienced a baby boom with over 50 snake babies, recently born to six different species. The list of rare and endangered snake babies includes: Armenian Vipers, Black-tailed Horned Vipers, Catalina Rattle-less Rattlesnakes, Aruba Island Rattlesnakes, Baja California Rat Snakes, and Southwest Speckled Rattlesnakes.

2_Los Angeles Zoo Ethiopian Mountain Viper by Tad Motoyama

3_Los Angeles Zoo Baby Armenian Viper by Tad Motoyama

4_Los Angeles Zoo Baby Black Tailed Horn Viper by Tad Motoyama

Photo Credits: Tad Motoyama  (Image 1: Cape Cobra / Image 2: Ethiopian Mountain Viper / Image 3: Armenian Viper / Image 4: Black-tailed Horned Viper / Image 5: Catalina Rattle-less Rattlesnake / Image 6: Aruba Island Rattlesnake / Image 7: Baja California Rat Snake / Image 8: Southwest Speckled Rattlesnake )

The most likely reason for the influx in babies this season is the years of preparation and extraordinary work that the L.A. Zoo’s LAIR staff has put into understanding and raising these rare and endangered snake species. The team has endeavored to find the formula that worked best for the collection.

“The staff at LAIR has a special talent when it comes to breeding snakes and lizards,” said Recchio. “The baby boom we are experiencing now is the result of years of observation, tinkering with new breeding tactics, and doing our best to mimic a snake’s natural habitat in the wild.”

Several years ago LAIR staff embarked on a plan to create an environment that best replicates the mountainous, rocky crevices where most of their rare and endangered snakes make their den during the coldest part of winter. Staff purchased a scientific refrigerator, typically used for storing pharmaceuticals, to house the snakes during the four months of the year they go through brumation, or a hibernation-like state necessary for successful breeding.

As the Zoo’s technology improved, the plan increased from one scientific refrigerator to an entire hibernaculum room consisting of multiple chambers that can hold several different snake species at a time.

The hibernaculum room, located behind the scenes at LAIR, is about the size of a small office and stacked wall to wall with sleeping snakes. Staff begins cycling adult snakes into brumation in mid-late November by taking preparatory measures such as ceasing their feedings, soaking them in water so they are well hydrated, and cleaning out their gut of feces so there are no traces of food left.

Temperatures in the hibernaculum are generally brought down to a chilling 55 degrees, but some snakes need temperatures brought down close to freezing. In early spring, staff begins warming up the snake’s chambers and waking them up so that they can be put into breeding pairs again. The entire cycle was made to replicate the snake’s natural environment and circumstances they would experience in nature.

Los Angeles Zoo guests can now view many of these snake species in their habitats at LAIR daily.

5_Los Angeles Zoo Baby Catalina Island Rattlesnake by Tad Motoyama

6_Los Angeles Zoo Baby Aruba Island Rattlesnake by Tad Motoyama

7_Los Angeles Zoo Baby Baja Rat Snake by Tad Motoyama

8_Los Angeles Zoo Baby Southwest Speckled Rattlesnake by Tad Motoyama