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Порталус


UNIQUE REPTILE ZOO

Дата публикации: 19 августа 2021
Автор(ы): Sergei RYABOV
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Рубрика: БИОЛОГИЯ
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №1, 2010, C.107-112
Номер публикации: №1629379248


Sergei RYABOV, (c)

by Sergei RYABOV, Director of Tula Exotarium

 

Tula exotarium, set up by a group of enthusiasts under the auspices of the local administration, RAS Institute of Zoology (St. Petersburg) and Moscow Zoo, has been one of the sights of this old Russian city for over 20 years. Today, visitors can see rare animals living in remote corners of the Earth and learn a lot about them. Leading herpetologists (scientists involved with reptiles) come to the Tula exotarium from all over the world, its employees participate in international forums and scientific expeditions.

 

Tula exotarium was founded in 1987 and today, it is a base laboratory of herpetological research carried out by the RAS Institute of Zoology*; it is also a member of the Euro-Asian Regional Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The exposition and scientific laboratories of the exotarium were organized step by step. At the present moment, a unique collection of serpents is presented in a small house at Oktyabrskaya Street, 26. There live more than 3,000 animals of over 500 species and subspecies.

 

 

See: A. Alimov et al., "Alma Mater of National Zoology", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2003.--Ed.

 
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A WINDOW TO THE MYSTERIOUS WORLD

 

Four halls accommodate terrariums with rare and beautiful snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodiles and amphibians. And that is not all. You can also see small mammals, birds and invertebrates there. Tula never had its own zoo, and the exotarium makes it possible to get children and adults acquainted with different representatives of the planet's fauna. Notwithstanding a limited area of the museum (only 100 m2), the exposition is really interesting and many visitors return to the exotarium several times a year. Our employees organize regular thematic exhibitions: "They Are Somewhere Near" (about the Tula Region animals), "The Butterfly's Secret" (exhibition of live insects and collections), "Disappearing Tzarevnas" (about amphibians), "The Country of Dragons and Pixies" (about Vietnam), "The Animals That Made Tula Famous" (about species reared in the exotarium for the first time in world practice), beauty contests for serpents, etc. A special program "Studies at the Zoo" has been introduced to maximally use the potential of our organization in order to teach such subjects as nature history, biology, geography and ecology.

 

Since 2007 the program for children "We Grow Up at the Zoo" (the first of its kind among analogous institutions) has been in progress at the Tula exotarium for 1-3 year-old children. It has turned out that our premises cannot accommodate all those who are eager to attend classes. We organize family visits, master classes (cricket trapping, looking after mice fed to serpents), express shows of rare animals from other zoos; we also demonstrate fascinating films, etc. We have joined a popular world action "Night at the Museum": since 2001 our employees have been organizing thematic fancy-dress performances, whereas other national museums introduced this practice only in 2009. The case is that many exotarium  charges have  nocturnal  habits and

 
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become active in the evening. Visitors who happen to be at the exotarium at this time have a rare opportunity to observe them, see how they feed, communicate and look after each other. Staging of the Russian Christmas-tide or the mysterious Halloween in the atmosphere of a reptile zoo makes people feel free and make jokes. Masters of the evening, dressed as witches, kikimoras (female goblins), sometimes as brides, draw attention of guests to the peculiarities of this or that animal, tell interesting and gruesome stories about lives of our junior brothers, engage in fortune-telling, in games with visitors and organize various competitions. The guests are allowed to communicate with animals—without a fencing glass, which helps to overcome fears and arouse good feelings towards those animals that seemed slippery and cold.

 

In summer we open a children's contact zoo, where boys and girls can pat and feed different tame animals, have fun swinging on turtle-swings and jumping on the giraffe-trampoline. A complex of original events is held annually within the framework of the International European and World Environmental Zoo Programs-for example, the year 2008 was dedicated to global problems of extinction of frogs, and 2009—to small European beasts.

 

Each spring, starting from 2003, some inhabitants of the exotarium are sent to the Moscow Zoo, where joint exhibitions of the most unique reptiles from Tula and Moscow collections are organized. Tula exotarium was a shooting area for the popular Russian TV program "The Animal World" (presented by Nikolai Drozdov, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), Lomonosov Moscow State University), different popular-science films, etc. Together with our colleagues from Finland, Germany and the USA we organized two international contests of children's paintings in Tula-the first was called "Zoos Will Save the World" (2006), the second was dedicated to the protection of small European beasts (2009).

 
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Such a diverse and active work allows to attract about 100,000 visitors annually to the smallest exhibition area of all the world zoos!

 

SERPENT "MATERNITY CLINIC" AND "KINDERGARTEN"

 

Employees of the exotarium believe that zoos should be engaged in animal breeding. And we have all necessary conditions for that: 14 scientific laboratories have developed and implemented a convenient system of serpent keeping. Each snake lives in its own "apartment"— a box. Chips, a convenient shelter and drinking tank make up its "furniture", while wood species also need branches for climbing. During the reproduction period we put a male and a female together—as a rule, for a couple of hours, sometimes days. Taking into account biological rhythms of snakes, we arrange winter conditions—not very cold and long for tropical species (+16-22"C), and up to 3-5 months with a temperature from +2 to +10°C for palaearctic species. Sometimes inhabitants of tropical mountains winter in the same conditions as their northern congeners. After the termination of the diapause (hibernation), the temperature becomes gradually higher and days become longer. In this period snakes are fed very actively to ensure the development of sex cells matured in the winter period.

 

Many unique observations have been made at the Tula exotarium. For example, it was established that a copulation period (coupling of two individuals during sexual intercourse) of Pallas' coluber (Elaphe dione), milk adder (Lampropeltis triangulum annulata), Chinese cat snake (Boiga kraepelini) lasts from 12 to 60 hours. The shortest couplings are registered for many American species of grass-snakes of the Pantherophis genus and some king snakes of the Lampropeltis genus—5-15 minutes.

 

We are lucky to rear 40 species of snakes in laboratory conditions; no zoo has ever achieved such high results. For example, the story of the horned pit viper (Protobothrops cornutus) from Vietnam. Prior to 2002, only 2 specimens of this species that had been found in the first half of the 20th century were known in the world: one kept at the London Museum, the other—in Paris. As no one knew anything about this animal for many years, it was offered to register it in the Black Data Book of extinct species. But in 2002, German scientist Thomas Ziegler was lucky to discover one more specimen in the Central Vietnam. In 2003-2005 we together with our colleagues from the RAS Institute of Zoology and the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (Hanoi) organized 4 expeditions to the National Park Phong Nha Ke Bang, where for three months and two weeks we traced out 5 couples of this singular species. Back in 2004, the first young horned pit vipers hatched out from eggs in Tula, and in 2009 there appeared 62 young ones! They were accommodated in zoos of the USA, Europe, China and other countries.

 

Breeding of long-nosed grass-snakes (Rhynchophis boulengeri) is one of the most impressive successes of the exotarium. This beautiful bright-green snake has a soft outgrowth on the nose part of the head. As it was found out by our specialists, when half in water, the outgrowth helps the snake to register water surface vibrations and determine who is approaching—the enemy or prey. In 1995, the RAS Institute of Zoology gave us a present of 2 male and 1 female specimens. The progeny appeared the same year and it turned out that young serpents look quite different from adults—they are gray. Since then, over 300 individuals of the long-nosed grass-snake have been reared at our exotarium; in all, they gave birth to some thousand individuals in the zoos of the world.

 
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Thus this rare species was introduced into the zoological culture, and now it is no longer under the threat of extinction due to reducing areas of natural habitats.

 

The Tula exotarium collaborates with the Academic Institute and National Museum of the Nature of Vietnam, Chendu Institute of Biology (China), some Indonesian and Japanese centers and institutes, zoos located in Cologne (Germany), Helsinki (Finland), Saint Louis, Dallas and Fresno (USA), Zurich (Switzerland), Melbourne (Australia) and in many other cities.

 

Every year about 4-5 thous. young snakes appear at our exotarium. One of our laboratories works only with the young stock and is known as a "Serpent Kindergarten"-the only one in the world. We have collected a lot of scientific information there. For many years we have been recording detailed data on the size and weight of all species, duration of incubation periods, sizes of newborns (body length, tail length, weight), ratio of male and female specimens in each brood, primary food, terms of the first and subsequent moltings, growth rates, etc., in a special register. On the basis of these materials, 3 books have been published in the English and Russian languages and over 100 articles written and published in national and foreign magazines.

 

DISCOVERY OF NEW SPECIES

 

Our exotarium is famous as a habitat and breeding place (young stock makes up some thousand individuals a year) of unique wood frogs of the Theloderma genus. More than 10 species of this frog live in India, China, Indochina, Malaysia and Indonesia. They lead a very reticent life, their cryptic (Greek kryptós means secret) or protective color safely conceals them and protects from enemies. Their appearance is rather freak—the body is covered with numerous outgrowths and they look like a piece of moss or bark. Smaller species, sometimes referred to the Aquixalus genus, resemble bird droppings.

 

In nature all frogs of the Theloderma genus reproduce in hollows or karst cavities filled with water and fallen leaves, and the success of breeding depends on the selection of the right water composition: pH factor and tannins are of great importance. These freaky frogs have been known to scientists for a long time, but they knew nothing about their life style till the mid-1990s. Only studies conducted in Vietnam by Russian scientist Nikolai Orlov, Cand. Sc. (Biol.), explained why these amphibians were rare before: they were hidden in hollows. Amateur herpetologist Yevgeny Ryboltovsky from Vsevolozhsk (Leningrad Region) was the first man in the world, who managed to model an artificial environment in the aquaterrarium, suitable for these frogs. In Tula scientists have introduced into the zoological culture 7 species of the Theloderma frogs, 3 of them were reproduced in the laboratory for the first time. One of the species of this genus, discovered in the course of expeditions organized by the Tula exotarium, was named in honor of the author of this article and is called Theloderma rjabovi.

 

During the expeditions our employees together with leading Russian herpetologists were lucky to discover new species. At the present time, the following serpent species have got a scientific description in the co-authorship with exotarium specialists: Boiga tanahjam-peana, Boiga bengkuluensis, Trimeresurus truongsonensis, Protobothrops trungkhanensis, Goniurosaurus huuliensis. "Characteristics" of some new reptile species are being prepared.

 

Our experts have worked in Vietnam more than 20 times. We have an exclusive right to get live reptiles from this country to study their reproductive biology.

 
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The exotarium is a participant of numerous international conferences—in Nois (Germany), 1997; in Orlando (USA), 1998; in St. Petersburg (2003, 2009); in Chendu (China), 2007, etc. Reports prepared by Tula scientists are always highly appraised. The opinion of our colleagues is very important for us, as only specialists are able to understand all difficulties the young nursery had to overcome on its way to success. Andreas Gumprecht (Cologne, Germany), Full Member of the German Association of Herpetology and Terrarium-istics, Chairman of the ASIANA Research Group, author of many books, wrote us; "The herpetological collection in Tula is the only one of its kind in the world, the state of animals and breeding results are excellent there. I have never seen anything like it either in Europe, or in the USA." According to Klos Andren from the Swedish Academy of Sciences (Göteborg), our research results speak for "high professional standards". According to Professor Wang Yuezhao from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Biology (Chandu), who has been cooperating with our scientists in the field of ecology and biology of reptiles, our exotarium is the best in the world. Professor Notker Helfenberger from the Zoological Museum of the Zurich University (Switzerland) shares this opinion: "I have never heard anything about another institution that is so successful in breeding reptiles..., many people visit Tula with only one purpose: to see this famous exotarium...".

 

PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS

 

Thus, we have done a lot and are not going to stop. But insufficient areas of the exotarium hinder its further development. Moreover, the dilapidated wooden building constructed in late 19th century, endangers the very existence of the collection. In accordance with the program "Culture of the Tula Region", construction of a new building, designed by the architect Vladimir Dotsenko and specialists of the exotarium, is planned for 2009-2011. Instead of the traditional exhibition, tourists and city residents will see tropical forests, deserts, mountain landscapes in correspondingly decorated halls. A recreation center will be organized to demonstrate nocturnal animals, an unusual zoological restaurant, a tropical center with flying butterflies and other amusements will be on to entertain visitors. The exotarium laboratories will open their doors to scien-tists-herpetologists and students from different countries, like it is done at the Reptile Breeding Center Prestasi in Jakarta (Indonesia). Mr. Buntje Soetanto, its director, thinks that "...there are few organizations in the world similar to the Tula exotarium." But today its development prospects depend on the state financial support.

 

The enthusiasm and professionalism of our staff members have made it possible to gain international recognition of the exotarium. But we can and should achieve a higher level in order to strengthen, in cooperation with other scientists, the scientific prestige of our country.

Опубликовано на Порталусе 19 августа 2021 года

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