BUFFALO NY - They crawl and glide through our environment, some covered in scales, others in slime, and some are even poisonous!
Reptiles and Amphibians occupy a special niche in our perception, one of fear and revulsion. But these creatures play an important role in role in our environment, one often taken for granted. That's one among many of the reasons the Buffalo Zoo is planning a major upgrade to its Reptile House.
Donna Fernandes is the zoo's President and CEO.
"We're hoping that this new building will excite people about reptiles and amphibians and cause them to care more about them than they do currently," she says.
The current house was opened in 1942, under the guidance of its curator Marlin Perkins, who was perhaps best known for the TV show "Wild Kingdom." Perkins had a love for snakes and declared the new facility, "The finest Reptile House In America."
"Originally this Reptile house was a snake house, we have diversified the collection since then, but his passion spilled over, and we continue to share that with our visitors every day here," explains Penny Felski, the zoo's Herpetological Manager.
In keeping with Buffalo's architectural pride, parts of the original building, including the brass railings and brick walls, will be retained. The animal enclosures, Fernandes says, will have some major upgrades.
"We'll be able to have a lot of live plants, natural substrate,there will be automatic misting systems, individual environmental control, so it will definitely improve the husbandry, aesthetically it will be a lot nicer," she says.
Conservation of Reptiles and Amphibians is at a critical point across the globe. Their numbers have been in decline for decades, and that's not a good sign for the overall health of the ecology.
"When they decline, it's really a signal that something's wrong." Fernandes says. "Either there's a degradation of water quality, it might be climate change, or it might be the improper behavior of humans, either collecting them for the pet trade, or doing destruction of their habitat."
Protecting these bellwethers of the environment has been a continuing mission for the zoo. They have played a global role in protecting species of frogs and toads, and Felki says they have also done their part to preserve local species.
"We brought in local conservation projects, the Hellbender Headstart project, the Blandings Turtle Headstart program, we help out with the Senecas on that project, we breed the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake here and participate in field surveys for that species," Felki says.
The zoo's mission of preservation is not one that can be achieved by itself. It requires the participation of the entire community, and it's a reminder that all life, even the smallest, is important to the planet as a whole.
"If you can be a good steward at home," Fernanades advises, "Minimize your water and energy use, and don't use materials that are one time use -- try to replace them "
Felski agrees. "Anything, small or big, that you can contribute, matters, and that's what we have to remember."