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Russell Aquatic Ecology Center Now Open

September 28, 2013 - The Russell Aquatic Ecology Center opened to the public after a brief ribbon cutting ceremony. Zoo Director Dr. Patrick M. Burchfield, welcomed the crowd of people and thanked all the donors and partners that made the exhibit possible: Russell Family, Frank Boggus – Boggus Ford Auto Group, Keppel AmFELS, Richard & Elka Jaross Family, ESCO Marine, Rotary Club of Brownsville, Captain Murphy’s Fishing Charters, C.J. Mire and Moody Gardens. He also thanked Sea World and Landry’s Downtown Aquarium for securing and providing some of the sea life that are on exhibit. The new Center marks a significant investment in the Zoo and City of Brownsville and we encourage everyone to make a trip to come see the new exhibit.

About the Russell Aquatic Ecology Center

The Russell Aquatic Center at the Gladys Porter Zoo is all about the aquatic habitats of South Texas and the animals and plants that live there. Some of the exhibits feature naturally occurring habitats, such as the open ocean, resacas, sea grass beds and mangroves, while other exhibits display man made habitats such as jetties and piers.

The 30,000 gallon Deep Water Exhibit is the largest exhibit in the Aquatic Center – six feet deep with a footprint of 26 feet by 26 feet. This exhibit will house representatives of the larger marine fish and invertebrates commonly found in the bay and near shore waters, such as red snapper, black drum, sandtrout, sheepshead, spadefish, snook, lookdowns, jacks, orange spotted filefish, pufferfish, giant red hermit crabs and of course everyone's favorite – sharks!

A rehabbed sea turtle on loan from Sea Turtle, Inc. will make the 2,800 gallon Ancient Mariners Exhibit its home. Fish commonly found living in and around South Texas jetties will also make it their home, such as snappers, mullet, pompano, sergeant majors and blennies.

The Freshwater Giants Exhibit will feature the fish, plants and reptiles found in the resacas of South Texas, including alligator gar, spotted gar, Rio Grande cichlids, catfish, bass, softshell turtles and snapping turtles.

Most of the marine habitats in South Texas have sandy or muddy bottoms, however, there are a few rocky reefs such as the 7 ½ Fathom Reef near Corpus Christi. In this exhibit, you will find many of the colorful fish often associated with coral reefs such as angelfish, damselfish, butterflyfish and moray eels.

Fiddler crabs will be displaying their large claws in the 400 gallon Mangrove Exhibit that they will share with terrapins and smaller fish commonly found in mangroves. This includes sheepshead minnows, killifish, cowfish, burrfish and the young of many species including redfish, snappers and jacks.

The open ocean is represented by the Keppel AmFELS Ghostly Jellyfish Exhibit, which features . . . you guessed it . . . moon jellies (and yes, you can call them jellyfish if you prefer – as long as you understand that they are not actually fish!). In addition, a variety of smaller exhibits will be scattered around the Aquatic Center, which will allow us to display animals that tend to get lost in the larger exhibits, such as seahorses, octopus, sea robins, stargazers, live shrimp, crabs and live snails.

And finally, the Stingray Touch Tank, crowning glory of the Aquatic Center, will house a variety of local stingrays, cownose rays, southern rays and Atlantic rays. Visitors will be able to touch these animals. Hopefully, in the near future during designated times, visitors will be able to purchase food to feed the rays once they become acclimated and more comfortable in their surroundings.

The Russell Aquatic Ecology Center will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. There is no additional fee to enter the center.

Dinosaurs Safari March 15th - July 6th

Walk back in time to discover a world ruled by giants. Dinosaur Safari features new animatronic dinosaurs not previously displayed at Zoo, along with visitor favorite, the T-Rex. Plus real fossils, and interactive activities for children, including a fossil dig and dinosaur rubbing station. Get to know all the interesting characteristics of some of these prehistoric creatures. Admission into the exhibit is $3.00 with regular paid admission or Zoo membership.

Saturday Morning Safari September – January - May 2014

Enroll your child for Saturday morning fun at the Zoo. You can join, too! Just make sure you call to reserve your space by registering now for any or all of the classes. Each class includes arts & crafts, Zoo tour, animal encounters and snacks.

Space is limited, registration is required. (CLICK TO REGISTER)

Gladys Porter Zoo Mourns the Loss of Komodo Dragon

The Gladys Porter Zoo staff mourns the loss of one of its most impressive and cherished creatures. Jahat, a male Komodo dragon, passed away in his behind-the-scenes quarters during the night of Thursday, April 17. Over the past year, he had been showing signs of advanced age; his movements had become slow and arthritic. Zoo keepers and veterinary staff had been closely monitoring his condition. Preliminary necropsy results reveal that he succumbed to heart failure. Although wild Komodo dragons can live to be 30 years of age, reptiles grow and mature at varying rates. Jahat showed signs of sexual maturity nearly a decade ago, and was considered past his prime at the time of his death. He was 15 years-old.

Jahat arrived at the Gladys Porter Zoo on March 1, 2007 from the Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin, Texas, although he was owned by Zoo Miami. His transfer was a Species Survival Plan (SSP) breeding recommendation. The Komodo dragon SSP program manages Komodo dragons in captivity in order to maintain a genetically diverse and self-sustaining population. His transfer coincided with the opening of the Zoo’s “Realm of the Dragon” exhibit.

Komodo dragons are native to a few Indonesian islands of the Lesser Sunda Chain, including Komodo, Rintja and the western coast of Flores. They are the largest monitor in the world, reaching lengths of about 10 feet; adult males can weigh over 220 pounds. In the wild, it is estimated that less than 5,000 remain. Their status is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Habitat loss and poaching are the main threats to their survival. In an effort to protect the species, the Indonesian government enacted anti-poaching laws and created Komodo National Park.

The Zoo will continue to work towards establishing a successful breeding pair to help conserve this unique threatened species. In the interim, the public can still view Komodo dragons at the Zoo’s Herpetarium. Nadira, meaning “rare,” and Zahra, meaning “shining, luminous girl” arrived September 2013, from the Memphis Zoo.

“Jahat was a beautiful dragon that will be missed by his keepers, and especially by all the Zoo visitors who admired him”, stated Clint Guadiana, Supervisor of Herpetology. Visitors who would like to pay their respects may leave cards or flowers in the Zoo office for display in the Realm of the Dragon exhibit or send us a message using #byejahat.

Discovery Tile Program

Support the Zoo by purchasing a Discovery Tile to recognize or honor a family member or loved one. Every tile purchase supports our cause: completion of our new education building. The South Texas Discovery Center is scheduled to open in 2013. If you need additional information or want to purchase your tile contact the Education Department at educ@gpz.org or (956) 548-9453 ext. 319. Download an order form today.

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For more information, please call (956) 546-7187