TYLER — A 12-year resident of the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler has a new home to stretch and slither in an aquatic setting perfect for her natural habitat.
Visitors now are able to return to the reptile house to view Ana the anaconda’s new exhibit.
William Garvin, supervisor of reptiles, said Ana is 12 feet long and almost 70 pounds.
She came to the zoo on New Year’s Day in 2008 as a baby from another zoological institution. Since then, she has continued to outgrow her former exhibits.
“So this is the newest version and probably the last one we have because there’s plenty room for her to move around now,” Garvin said. “She’s going to keep getting larger, and now she has all the room she’ll ever need.
“We took a wall that had some smaller exhibits on there and we decided to do away with some of those and we just used a room that we had,” he said. “We sort of planned it, built it and made it happen from the ground up. This is the result and we’re proud of how it turned out.”
The reptile house remained closed after the zoo reopened in May following the COVID-19 shutdown, said Yvonne Stainback, curator of birds and reptiles.
She said the closure helped Ana adjust to her exhibit before visitors arrived and allowed zoo officials to revamp the reptile house, as well.
“I think having the upgrade allows her to really stretch out fully and be able to grow,” Stainback said. “Her exhibit over time got small. Our goals were to provide a better water habitat so she could completely submerge as well as making it large enough so she could grow into it more. And people can see her in really the habitat she was meant to be seen in.”
Wild anacondas live in northern South America in the slow moving streams and swamps of the Orinoco and Amazon River basins, Garvin said. With her new home, Ana now has 750 gallons of water to relax in compared with about the 25 gallons in her previous home.
“Because of their aquatic nature, they spend the majority of their time in the water,” he said. “They’re a very heavy-bodied snake, so they’re a little bit clumsy on land, but they’re very agile in the water. That’s where they hunt.”
Garvin said the plan is to make the exhibit more dynamic by adding different species of fish and small reptiles.
He said Ana is calm and well-behaved and eats large rodents. In the wild, anacondas have been known to eat rodents, deer, capybara and even jaguars or caimans.
Stainback said the public enjoys seeing large snakes.
“They’ve just got a lot of interest in seeing something that large, and being really up close to her like that is really going to be neat for visitors,” she said.
The zoo will continue to update exhibits when possible.
“Especially in the reptile department, this is just the first step we’re taking to make some of the exhibits a little bit bigger and a little bit more impressive,” Stainback said. “We always try to make good habitats for our animals.”