Lions, tigers and pythons. Oh my.

I love the Detroit Zoo, but I hate snakes. Still during the Hub’s outing to the zoo a few weeks ago I found myself standing in front of the small glassed snake exhibits watching the critters slither around. They’re mostly small snakes, but recently the zoo acquired an 18-foot, 85-pound reticulated female python, estimated to be 17 years old. What do you do with such a huge snake?

Photo courtesty of Mark M. Gaskill

The Detroit Zoo built it a new home. The centerpiece of the 20-by-8-by-8 foot space is a large stone head deity – created by Detroit Zoo reptile keeper David Blanchard – fashioned after temple idols found at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The enclosure also features a variety of plants and trees to offer the python the sanctuary she would find in her native habitat as well as a basking pool that provides underwater viewing for visitors.

“Pythons are exceptional swimmers, so the pool was vital to replicating a habitat synonymous with the wild,” said Detroit Zoological Society Curator of Reptiles Jeff Jundt. “David’s artistry helped to create an amazing space that meets the python’s needs and is also visually engaging for visitors.”   The reticulated python shares its new home with Madagascar tree boas, Dumeril’s boas and black-headed pythons, whose habitats were included in the design by Ehresman Associates, Inc. in Troy, Mich. A stone-and-glass façade and thatched roof span the 38-foot length of the exhibit. Funding for the project was made possible in part through the generosity of the James and Lynelle Holden Fund.

This snake was rescued from a private owner … something the zoo rarely does. Each year, the Detroit Zoological Society receives more than 100 requests from pet owners looking for a new home for their reptiles but can’t accommodate most of them.

“That once-cute baby iguana, turtle or snake is now full grown and is no longer fun to clean up after, has outgrown its enclosure or has simply lost its appeal,” said Jundt. “While we would like to be able to assist, we simply do not have the resources to care for all of these animals.” He suggests contacting the nearest humane society or animal rescue group.

The new habitat for the python is only one of the many new things at the zoo. The custom-designed Carousel officially opened to the public on Wednesday, September 28. The 36-foot wood-and-brass carousel has 33 hand-carved and hand-painted figures – including traditional horses as well as exotic mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, insects, snakes, fish, seahorses and dinosaurs.

It is exhibits like these … as well as this year’s Dinosauria attraction and the home makeover for the lions that lets you get up close and personal with the exhibits … that keep people coming back to the Detroit Zoo.  As proof, consider that more than one-million people visited in 2011. If you didn’t see Dinosauria you missed great fun. That attraction, with more than 30 life-like animatronic dinosaurs, drew roughly 28 percent of Zoo visitors between May 25 and Sept. 5.

“It’s wonderful to see the community continue to enjoy their zoo. Our goal is to provide families with one amazing experience after another,” said Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director Ron Kagan.

You can also check out the zoo at the fifth annual Fall Festival on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2, 2011. The two-day festival features live entertainment, children’s activities, hayrides and seasonal food. All activities take place in the Main Picnic Grove from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. Entry to the Fall Festival is free with regular Zoo admission.

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