The Indianapolis Zoo will open the gates Saturday on a new outdoor exhibit which uses the American alligator and the Orinoco crocodile to illustrate vastly different ends of the conservation spectrum.
The American alligator is one of the country’s greatest conservation successes, while the Orinoco crocodile one of the world’s most critically endangered reptile species. Both will be featured in Alligators & Crocodiles: The Fight to Survive, the Zoo’s first exhibit dedicated to the impressive reptiles since 2006.
The American alligator, only a few decades removed from near-extinction, sits on one end of the endangered species spectrum. But by 1987 the species was considered fully recovered, thanks to protections from the Endangered Species Act as well as conservation efforts from agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The population now numbers in the millions in their native range in swamps, marshes, bayous, lakes and rivers throughout the southeastern U.S.
The largest reptile species in the U.S., adult males can grow up to 15 feet long. Remarkably, they emerge from eggs roughly the size of an orange, and the vulnerable hatchlings are only around 6-8 inches long. Along with the adults that will be part of the Zoo’s new exhibit, visitors can meet — and even touch — juvenile alligators during daily Wild Encounter interactions.
These mysterious reptiles are the ultimate survivors and serve as ambassadors to their cousins under threat. Their inspiring story gives hope that conservationists can make a difference in the survival of other species, like their close relative, the Orinoco crocodile.
Excessive hunting and habitat loss have made the Orinoco crocodile one of the world’s most critically endangered reptile species, with less than 260,000 mature adults estimated left in the wild. Their native range is the Orinoco River Basin, which extends into Colombia and Venezuela, making them the largest crocodilian species in the Americas at up to 16 feet long.
Matching their size is their impressive strength and powerful bite. Behind the toothy grin they’re known for, crocodilians have the highest bite force ever recorded, with American alligators registering a crushing 2,980 pounds. Crocodilians are also among the oldest reptiles on the planet, having originated more than 200 million years ago. With their scaly, armored bodies, sharp teeth and massive tails, they still closely resemble the dinosaur relatives they outlived.
PHOTO ABOVE: Swamp is one of four juvenile alligators who will frequently be available for up-close inspection during Wild Encounters sessions. URBAN TIMES PHOTO
A zookeeper feeds one of the zoo’s new American alligators. URBAN TIMES PHOTO
The critically endangered Orinoco crocodile, less tolerant of cold than the American alligator, will have indoor-outdoor options as part of the new Zoo exhibit, located behind the Orangutan Center. URBAN TIMES PHOTO