Reticulated Python Joins Reptile House

The Houston Zoo would like to give a warm-blooded welcome to the latest cold-blooded housemate to join our reptile family. She’s an 18-foot (5.4 m) long reticulated python, weighing in at 156 lbs (70 kg). Her species hails from Southeast Asia, but she is a native Texan herself. Her name is…well we haven’t found the perfect name yet.

Our latest beautiful python has not yet been given a name, but we’re excited to have her here. So far, she has made quite the impression on zoo guests with just her size alone. Eighteen feet of pure muscle can cause a stir in the reptile house. Her species can grow upwards of 28 feet in length and is known to the be longest of all snakes on earth.

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The name “reticulated” was given to this species because of their patterns in their scales. These designs of yellow, brown, tan and black help reticulated pythons stay hidden from predators and allows them to attack prey in the shadows of the forests in reticulated-python-smaller-close-upSoutheast Asia. Like all pythons, the reticulated python is a non-venomous constrictor that uses its body strength to kill prey. A typical diet for these reptiles consists of almost anything they can catch including rats, birds, pigs, and deer.

Please join us in welcoming this incredible animal, and we hope you will stop into our reptile building to see her on your next visit to the Houston Zoo.

Three Tiny Bush Vipers at Houston Zoo

By: Jackie Wallace

13415660_10154349183977526_1128220140336758444_oThis spring, three tiny green bush vipers were born on March 26. Like most pit vipers, the neonates were born live instead of hatched from eggs like many other types of snakes. Originally a part of a group of six, only three have survived and have doubled in weight since their birth. They are expected to grow to be between 18-24 inches long. Despite their name, green bush vipers vary in color, mostly shades of green, but can also be bright yellow or grey. These snakes are found in the tropical rainforests of western and central Africa and get their name from their preference for lower bushes rather than the tall canopy trees. Guests can see all kinds of exotic and local snakes in the zoo’s Reptile and Amphibian House. The baby snakes will remain behind-the-scenes while they continue to grow.

 

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Sensational Snakes: Houston Zoo Puts a Spotlight on Native Snakes

Snakes are a part of life in Texas, and the Houston Zoo is passionate about their conservation. Snakes of all kinds play a vital role in our ecosystem as one of nature’s best pest control agents since they eat rats, mice, and other small animals. Even so, many people don’t like to see them in their own backyard. This becomes a major conflict as the weather warms up and Houstonians start to become more active outside and human-snake encounters become increasingly more common. As cold-blooded animals, snakes thrive in the warmth of Southeast Texas which makes this area ripe for a diverse population of this remarkable reptile.
Rattlesnake
The Houston Zoo is working hard to change snakes’ bad reputation by participating in a variety of special events created precisely to squelch fears of these valuable animals.

On Saturday, May 7, the Houston Zoo’s snake experts will be sharing their knowledge of local snakes at the Reptile House from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.  From Texas rat snakes to copperheads and cottonmouths to milk snakes, guests will learn all about the snakes that call Houston home. During the event, the keepers will have a variety of local snakes in easy-to-see table top tanks so guests can get closer than ever to these incredible animals.

Keepers will discuss the anatomy and biology of the snakes that live in the area, and what Houstonians can do to help protect these important animals. They’ll also tell you what to do if you become face-to-face with any snake.

Herpetology supervisor Judith Bryja will also represent the Houston Zoo at this weekend’s Lone Star Rattlesnake Days event in Austin. The event is April 30 and May 1 at the Travis County Expo Center and is aimed at changing the way people think about rattlesnakes.

It is doubtful that any other animal group is more feared or less understood by the general public. This persecution has reached such a point that, in some states, “Rattlesnake Roundups” are a popular fund-raising event for organizations like the local Chamber of Commerce or the Jaycees. The largest of these roundups is held each March in Sweetwater, Texas. This event began in 1958 and was advertised as a method of controlling the rattlesnake population in the area. However, it has progressed to the point where now rattlesnakes are collected months in advance often from more than 100 miles away from Sweetwater. They are collected by flushing them out of their dens and hiding areas with gasoline and other toxic substances, which not only harms the snakes, but also any other animals that may be in the same place. They are then kept in substandard conditions and are in poor health by the time the rattlesnake roundup is held. The snakes are sometimes cruelly strung up alive, decapitated and skinned in front of crowds which include children. These horrific events are promoted as safe and educational family fun – but they are not. The best way these events to end is if people stop participating in the slaughter.

In April of 1999, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association adopted a resolution condemning rattlesnake roundups and advising member institutions, such as the Houston Zoo, to oppose these activities. The Houston Zoo is joining with other Texas zoos in their opposition to rattlesnake roundups and encourages educational alternatives that promote awareness and respect for these animals.

 

Save Amphibians by Recycling Your Batteries!

Houston Toad 2

Batteries, Wildlife, and How You Can Take Action

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with the environment and wildlife in mind. If you have a surplus of used batteries, be them alkaline or rechargeable, you can take them to your local recycling center to ensure that the remaining chemicals and substances don’t harshly affect the wildlife that’s directly outside your doors!

Any battery that is disposed of in a landfill (like if you toss them in your normal trash), or that finds its way into the environment, has the potential to leak its old chemicals into the soils and waters that wildlife like amphibians call home.

Because amphibians like frogs, toads, even salamanders, have skin that can easily absorb liquids found in damp soils or the waters and streams they frequent, they can get sick from things like leaking batteries. Often, harsh or foreign chemical interactions can affect populations long-term by changing the behavior of animals, affecting female or male reproductive abilities or even influencing the development of eggs.

The Zoo works to help our local amphibians by recycling our alkaline and rechargeable batteries with a company that specializes in battery disposal. You can do the same by finding your local recycling center; if you’re in Houston you can go to the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center and they will take most options besides alkaline. You can also recycle more than the typical AA, AAA, C, and D batteries – items like power tools, cars, small electronics like tablets or smart phones, hearing aids, watches, and all manner of things take a variety of batteries.

By using rechargeable batteries you can also ensure that the materials that were mined to make your batteries last for a much longer time period than with single-use alkaline batteries. Rechargeable batteries will go dull over time, but you can get multiple uses out of them and lessen the stress on the environment by finding products and items that you can use over and over before recycling!

How Our Staff Recycles Batteries at the Zoo

 

Battery Sign Zoo Events

On Zoo grounds we will often offer recycling information that you can see when you visit. We recommend you take your batteries to a local recycling center to ensure they don’t end up in landfills that can encroach on the space of wildlife as well as affect the soils and waters amphibians and other animals call home.

Houston Toad Battery 1.0

Behind the scenes, our staff utilize a special battery drop-off for spent batteries. By encouraging staff to recycle these items the Zoo is able to see how many batteries we use as an organization, and how many we use that are rechargeable! Alkaline batteries are not rechargeable, so taking a look at our staff battery needs shows us where we could potentially get more rechargeable batteries rather than single-use alkaline batteries. We can also weigh our battery recycling over time and see how much space we have saved in landfills and how many batteries have been prevented from harshly affecting our wildlife habitats.Houston Toad Battery 1.3

Be Safe When Collecting Batteries for Recycling

 

Houston Toad Battery 1.1

Alkaline: these are more often the common batteries like AA, AAA, C, or D as well as 9-Volt. Do not store any of these batteries together without packaging. Once they have been used there is still potential for them to ‘pop’ open as there are residual chemicals that can be discharged and react with other batteries they are near. This could cause injury if someone is nearby. The 9-Volt batteries are commonly used in your fire alarms and are properly prepared for the recycling center by putting duct-tape over the positive and negative transistors (basically, the top two prongs need to be covered so they don’t come into contact with other batteries). Note that some centers do not accept alkaline batteries for recycling.

Rechargeable: these batteries are widely used in items like power-tools, phone batteries, laptop batteries, or even your more common AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-Volt options. There are no alkaline battery options that cannot be replaced with rechargeable options. You will find rechargeable batteries in forms of Nickel Cadmium (NiCd), Lithium-ion (Li-ion), and Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH). All of these batteries have the potential to get hot and should be packaged separately from each other in preparation for recycling; Li-ion should be particularly tended to in ensuring there is no other metal or battery contact once discharged.

This is a sustainability reference document. 

Success! 9 Sea Turtles Released into the Wild!

Every month, Houston Zoo staff assist the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with their weekly beach surveys, looking for stranded, injured, or nesting sea turtles. We drive the beach, sometimes for more than 10 hours searching for turtles that need help, and respond to calls to the sea turtle hotline (1.866.TURTLE.5).

This past Monday, we had the pleasure of releasing 9 sea turtles during the weekly survey! 3 Kemp’s ridleys were successfully released after being rehabilitated at NOAA’s Galveston Laboratory. They all came in, caught on fishermen’s hooks. Houston Zoo veterinary staff provided medical care for these turtles to ensure their speedy recovery.

Later in the afternoon, we released 6 green sea turtles into the bay. These turtles stranded for a variety of reasons, but one was found entangled in fishing line and plastic bags.

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Green sea turtle found on our Texas beaches, entangled in fishing line and plastic bags.

NOAA and the Houston Zoo worked together to provide medical care to this green sea turtle as it was rehabilitated in Galveston. Thankfully, it made a full recovery and was able to go back to the wild.

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NOAA staff releases the green sea turtle into the bay after it was successfully rehabilitated.

Everyone can play a role in saving sea turtles. Ensure that our local turtles do not get caught in plastic bags by making the switch to reusable fabric bags every time you go to the grocery store. This is an easy way to be a marine animal hero!

Saving Sea Turtles in the Gulf – Part 1

Greetings from Panama City! The Houston Zoo recently visited Florida with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to test turtle excluder devices (TEDs) for fisheries across the globe to incorporate into their shrimp nets. These TEDs are critical – and required by federal law – to ensure the safety of sea turtles while fishermen work to provide some of our favorite seafood, like shrimp!

Turtle excluder devices help protect sea turtles, like this guy, from shrimp nets!
Turtle excluder devices help protect sea turtles, like this guy, from shrimp nets!

Every summer NOAA staff spends three weeks in Panama City testing newly-constructed or tweaked TED designs that will, if approved, later be used by fishermen. Turtle excluder devices are used to allow fishermen to catch animals like shrimp, while excluding animals like sea turtles that may accidentally be caught in their nets.

Each year, about 200 sea turtles are driven to Florida from Galveston to test each TED, and about 25 turtles will attempt to swim through each TED. That’s a lot of turtles and swim time! The sea turtles are then released back into the wild after the weeks of TED testing.

Our partners at NOAA Galveston spend all year getting the sea turtles in their care ready for this critical work! This year, they allowed Houston Zoo staff to come along and observe the process of ensuring shrimp nets around the world are safe for sea turtles.

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The Zoo’s vet team provides veterinary care to sea turtles brought in from Galveston.

In addition to field work assistance in Panama City this summer, the Houston Zoo helps save sea turtles in a number of ways. One way the Zoo helps is by providing veterinary care to sea turtles brought in from Galveston, sometimes also housing rehabilitating sea turtles at the Zoo in the Kipp Aquarium. The Zoo also hosts sea turtle events at the Zoo to increase awareness, participates in weekly beach surveys to look for stranded or nesting sea turtles, and serves only ocean-friendly seafood to Zoo animals and guests!

Be sure to check back soon for more information on TED testing in Panama City!

Magnificent Madagascar Turtles!

This post was written by Bailey Cheney.


mad close upIf you’ve stopped by the ring-tailed lemur exhibit at Wortham World of Primates recently, you might have seen some turtles basking in the sun. Often, while keepers feed the lemurs, they get asked if they’re real turtles. This is because the turtles sit perfectly still as they enjoy the heat from the sun. The answer is yes; they are real turtles. In fact, they’re Madagascar big-headed turtles (Erymnochelys madagascariensis). These turtles can be found in the western lowland river basins of Madagascar. In the wild, they spend most of their time basking on logs, rocks, and river banks, pretty much exactly what they enjoy doing in our lemur exhibit.

Erymnochelys madagascariensis are fresh water turtles. They eat plant matter as well as fish and small invertebrates. Madagascar big-headed turtles are critically endangered turtles. This decline in wild populations is because of  habitat fragmentation and destruction in Madagascar. Oftentimes, they are forced to move from their habitat because of the agricultural industry in the country. Much of this agriculture and habitat destruction occurs on their nesting grounds as well. This, coupled with the fact that females lay eggs only every other year, does not bode well for the Madagascar big-headed turtle. They are, unfortunately, also caught and killed for their meat and for the traditional medicine trade in Asia. Surprisingly, this is a common plight that many turtle species face.

Mad babies

Because of their critical state, several conservation efforts are being undertaken to make sure that they continue their survival. Collaborations with local Malagasy fishermen and local people is the most important current conservation effort. Locals are being taught how vital these turtles are to the ecosystem and how to avoid damaging them and their nest sites. A conservation program is only as strong as the community who supports it; hence, it is always essential to have the support of the local people. Captive breeding is another conservation effort being undertaken. The Houston Zoo is an active participant in this breeding program. Our Madagascar big-headed turtles have produced several clutches of eggs and will hopefully continue to do so. If you’re interested in seeing their offspring, then you should head over to the Reptile House (they’re pretty cute)! And, of course, you must visit the magnificent adults who share their exhibit with our lemurs!

Baylor College of Medicine Offers Big Help to Komodo Dragon, Smaug

This piece written by Dipail Pathak, Baylor College of Medicine

Baylor College of Medicine and the Houston Zoo previously have collaborated on researching the elephant herpes virus and are now partnering again to help another zoo resident, a 16-year-old Komodo dragon named Smaug.

Baylor faculty in the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program have been working closely with zoo veterinarians and keepers since November to develop an orthosis to help the 7-foot, 200 pound Komodo dragon use his right foot more proficiently.

“About a year ago, we noticed that Smaug wasn’t using his right, front foot normally and that occasionally he was flipping it underneath and walking on the top of his toes,” said Dr. Lauren Howard, associate veterinarian at the Houston Zoo. “So that started the last year-and-a-half of our diagnostic investigation into what was going on with him. We’re still trying to determine why he’s not holding his foot the right way, but in the meantime our goal is to keep him holding his foot upward so he doesn’t continue to walk on the tops of his toes.”
Howard got in touch with Jared Howell, director of the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at Baylor, to see if he could help. When Howell got the call from the zoo, it was a huge surprise, but he was eager to assist.

Here you can see Smaug folding his foot under.
Here you can see Smaug folding his foot under.

“When a Komodo dragon picks up its foot, it slides forward and they fire their muscles and they are able to put their palm downward. What happened for Smaug is that he wasn’t able to fire his muscles to pull the foot forward, so as he picked up his shoulder to pull the foot forward, it stayed in the flex position and then he would land on it and roll his wrist underneath every single time he took a step,” said Howell. “He’s over 200 pounds, so that’s a lot of weight going onto that hand.”
Howell and colleagues visited Smaug at the zoo and took pictures and videos of him walking and came up with a plan to develop a rubberized spring-loaded device that would allow Smaug to have a natural range of motion at the wrist while still being able to then have it spring up when he took weight off of it so the palm would fall flat on the ground the way it should.

Howell and colleagues then took two casts of Smaug’s limb and came back to their labs at Baylor where they worked on a prototype of the orthosis. After a few iterations and some fine-tuning, they designed an orthosis that worked well for Smaug. The orthosis is made of urethane laminate, which is a flexible material that has tackiness to it to adhere to the scales and is easy to put on and take off.

Judith puts on Smaug's brace.
Judith puts on Smaug’s brace.

But that wasn’t the end of their work. A short while after he was fitted for the orthosis, Smaug developed an infection in his foot, unrelated to the orthosis, which caused some mild cellulitis and swelling of the fingers. Howell and colleagues developed a second device to hold his foot in place while he healed. This device, made with silicone polymer, is also easy to get on and off and pre-positions the hand to help Smaug walk well. Smaug now has both devices and uses them as needed.

“We’ve noticed a difference in the management of Smaug’s right front foot. One thing we were having trouble with was his toes were starting to get swollen and infected from the trauma from how he was carrying the foot. With this latest brace, we were able to keep the toes straight and they healed up – they stopped getting traumatized, the swelling went down and they weren’t infected anymore. What we’re looking at is a long-term goal of keeping this brace on for four to six to eight months and hoping that over time, it will strengthen his arm and maybe help him keep it in the right position,” said Howard.

Howell notes that there was a learning curve in working with the reptile.

“It’s a bit different. You don’t have human tissue, you have scales, different muscle functions and joints that all move in different ways. All of those things added to the challenge, but it was a great learning experience and a lot of fun,” said Howell, who emphasized it was a collaborative effort of the entire Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at Baylor.
Smaug Brace

Snakes and Reptiles – An Unfortunate Misunderstanding

In general, reptiles are a misunderstood and much-maligned group of animals. Literature published as far back as 1735 describes reptiles as “foul and loathsome animals.” Unfortunately, this viewpoint is still held by many people today, especially when snakes are the reptiles being discussed. The unreasonable fear of snakes is quite prevalent in our society and there are many myths and misconceptions concerning snakes and their habits. The general public conception is that snakes are the “enemy” and should be killed on sight. This attitude still persists in spite of overwhelming evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, on the important roles that snakes play in a healthy ecosystem. Areas where snakes are removed often display a population explosion of rodents, usually to the detriment of nearby agricultural enterprises.


The news media also plays a role in shaping this attitude. Most publicity concerning snakes is of a negative nature. Venomous snakebites often receive extensive local media coverage far beyond the actual threat to human life. Rarely is it pointed out that the chances of death from a venomous snakebite are considerably less than the chances of dying from a lightning strike or from an insect bite (Bureau of Vital Statistics, Texas Department of Health).

Judith-blog-resizeOut of all snakes, the rattlesnakes probably have received more unjust notoriety and have been persecuted needlessly more than any other group, especially in the United States. It is doubtful that any other animal group is more feared or less understood by the general public. This persecution has reached such a point that, in some states, “Rattlesnake Roundups” are a popular fund-raising event for organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce or the Jaycees. The largest of these roundups is held each March in Sweetwater, Texas. This event began in 1958 and was advertised as a method of controlling the rattlesnake population in the area. However, it has progressed to the point where now rattlesnakes are collected months in advance often from over 100 miles from Sweetwater. They are often collected by flushing them out of their dens and hiding areas with gasoline and other toxic substances, which not only harms the snakes, but also any other animals that may be in the same place. They are then kept in substandard conditions and are in poor health by the time the rattlesnake roundup is held. The snakes are often cruelly strung up alive, decapitated and skinned in front of crowds which include children. These horrific events are promoted as safe and educational family fun.

In April of 1999, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association adopted a resolution condemning rattlesnake round-ups and advising member institutions, such as the Houston Zoo, to oppose these activities. The Houston Zoo is joining with other Texas Zoos in their opposition to rattlesnake roundups and encourages educational alternatives that promote awareness and respect for these animals.

Judith-blog-resize2Slowly, however, the bad reputation that snakes have had is changing, even when rattlesnakes are involved. This can be seen in the ever-increasing numbers of successful herpetological societies that are being established in North America, and also by the increasing popularity of non-venomous snakes as pets.

If you’d like to learn more about these awesome and unique American critters, the second annual Texas Rattlesnake Festival will be held in Round Rock, Texas on April 11-12, 2015. No animals are killed, harmed, or abused. Instead, it is an educational event where people can learn about the different species of rattlesnakes in Texas and the beneficial role they play in a healthy ecosystem.

Then on June 12-14, 2015, the fourth annual Snake Days will be held in Sanderson, Texas. This one isn’t specifically about rattlesnakes, but about snakes in general. It includes a day of informative lectures by herpetologists, a photo contest, fake snake contest, vendors selling herpetology related products, and a fundraiser, proceeds of which benefit Texas Parks and Recreation’s Wildlife Diversity Department.

All animals have a role in their respective environments, including rattlesnakes. Please avoid roundups, support humane and educational events, and leave snakes alone if you find them in the wild. And of course, visit us here at the Houston Zoo where we love rattlesnakes! We have eleven species on exhibit and are always happy to talk to zoo guests about them.

East Texas Herpetological Society – March 2015 Meeting

Join us for the East Texas Herpetological Society’s March 2015 meeting at the Houston Zoo. This event is free and open to the public!

EMMA-CanebrakeWho: Guest Speaker – Tim Cole
When: Saturday, March 21, 2015
Where: The Houston Zoo – Brown Education Building
6200 Hermann Park Drive Houston, TX 77030

Details:
– Refreshments at 7:00 PM
– Talk Begins at 7:30 PM

Part of this meeting will cover the Texas Rattlesnake Festival. This event features educational talks, over 45 subspecies of rattlesnakes, venom extraction show, scavenger hunt, face painting, photo booth, vendors, and more. This is a family(and snake-friendly) event in Round Rock, TX that features rattlesnakes and works to teach about these species which are often misunderstood. 

Learn More About the East Texas Herpetological Society

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Congratulations to Scott Meyer for being selected as one of three runners-up in our photo contest! Be on the lookout for the other honorees and see the winning photo in the latest issue of our Wildlife magazine. ... See MoreSee Less

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Congratulations to Scott Meyer for being selected as one of three runners-up in our photo contest! Be on the lookout for the other honorees and see the winning photo in the latest issue of our Wildlife magazine.

Skye Joy Quimby, Patricia J Ponko and 122 others like this

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Gretchen LynneWhat a beautiful creature. <3 And a fantastic shot. <3

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Elias GarciaEs inpresionante en vivo !

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Dandys feeling the wonderful chill in the air while watching the patas monkeys enjoy their breakfast.

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Casey Mcaninchthats awesome looks like dandys having fun

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Congratulations to Donna MacTear for being selected as one of three runners-up in our photo contest! Be on the lookout for the other honorees and see the winning photo in the latest issue of our Wildlife magazine. ... See MoreSee Less

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Congratulations to Donna MacTear for being selected as one of three runners-up in our photo contest! Be on the lookout for the other honorees and see the winning photo in the latest issue of our Wildlife magazine.

Giczi Kristóf István, Rebeccah Bauerlein and 351 others like this

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Andrea E. PetersonHow did I miss a photo contest?! Some of my best work has come from the zoo. This makes me sad. 😩

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Aaron WilliamsHow could we have entered?! Never saw a contest!

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Jennifer WittmanAbsolutely beautiful!

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Sabrina KellyAwesome colors

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Judith Maile Young O'PryAwesome

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Zachary GrimmSweet shot! 📷

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Jose RosalesGod he's gorgeous. Briselda Ayala

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Sydney SolomonScott Cadena guess this is why people always have professional lenses on their cameras at the zoo.

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