The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is excited to celebrate the births of three Eastern massasauga rattlesnake snakelets, a federally protected species, and four threatened black tree monitor hatchlings. This is the Zoo’s first-ever successful breeding of Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes and birth of black tree monitors in several years. The Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Programs for both the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake and Black Tree Monitor.
SSP programs are collaborative science-based management programs developed by the AZA to oversee breeding and sustainability of select animal species within AZA-member zoos and aquariums. Several of these programs also enhance conservation efforts of these species in the wild as well.
“Welcoming these significant births is an incredible achievement not only for our care team but also these SSP programs,” said Seamus Ehrhard, the Zoo’s assistant curator of Herpetology. “The Zoo is committed to conserving wildlife and knowing that we are contributing to the survival of both these rare species is extremely rewarding.”
The Eastern massasauga rattlesnake population has continued to decline for more than three decades and is listed as a “threatened” species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. These small venomous rattlesnakes are found in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. Most reptile species lay eggs but the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake give birth to live young called snakelets or neonates. As in all rattlesnakes, a new segment is added to the snake’s rattle each time it sheds, not yearly, a common misperception. Though federally protected, the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, is threatened by habitat loss, as humans drain wetlands for farms, roads and urban expansion impacting where they make their homes. This species returns to the same hibernation spot each year, which leads to competition within the population due to decreasing habitat space. The AZA’s Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake SSP, currently comprised of 17 AZA-accredited zoos, recently held its annual conference to discuss the long-term population study on the species. Rae Karpinski, the Zoo’s lead animal caretaker of herpetology, attended the conference and serves on the species’ SSP committee. Guests can see the Zoo’s two adult Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes in its historic Herpetarium building.
Black tree monitors are found exclusively on Aru island off the west coast of New Guinea. This species gets its name from its solid black scales that cover their entire body, which help them conceal themselves from predator species. At birth, hatchlings have green spots or bands that fade as they get older. This three-foot species has a prehensile tail, which can be twice the length of their body, that allows them to grip branches as they move through the trees. The Zoo currently has two adult black tree monitors that reside in the Herpetarium building. Population of black tree monitors in its native habitat is declining rapidly due to the reduction of its natural habitat from deforestation. Black tree monitors are also popular in the world pet trade, with most specimens being captured from the wild.
The OKC Zoo is home to 115 species of reptiles. The new Eastern massasauga rattlesnake snakelets and black tree monitor hatchlings are currently off public view but the Zoo will share regular updates about its newest Herpetarium residents on social media.
The Oklahoma City Zoo is currently in its summer hours and open daily open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last entry no later than 4 p.m. Purchase advance tickets at www.okczoo.org/tickets and avoid the entry lines. Located at the crossroads of I-44 and I-35, the OKC Zoo is a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the American Alliance of Museums, Oklahoma City’s Adventure District and an Adventure Road partner. Regular admission is $12 for adults and $9 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free. Stay connected with the Zoo on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, and by visiting our blog stories. Zoo fans can support the OKC Zoo by becoming a ZOOfriends member. Starting at $45, memberships can be purchased at ZOOfriends.org and provide access to the OKC Zoo for an entire year plus, additional benefits and discounts. To learn more about Zoo happenings, call (405) 424-3344 or visit okczoo.org.