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Science

New Jacksonville Zoo Hatchlings Illustrate Different Approaches To Conservation

The Jacksonville Zoo is celebrating the hatching of two very different species of endangered animals.

The zoo recently welcomed Louisiana Pine Snakes...and a South American Magellanic penguin.

The new zoo babies will take very different journeys now that they’re out of the egg.

Robert Mendyk is the supervisor of herpetology, meaning he’s the snake guy. He opened a locked, temperature controlled vault, exposing two small, clear-plastic boxes. Each one contains a single Louisiana Pine Snake.

“It’s been in decline over the last several decades. It’s considered to be one of the rarest snakes,” he said.

Mendyk said this snake is difficult to document in the wild because it usually lives underground. Plus, forest fire patterns are changing and displacing gophers, the snakes’ favorite food.  Not only do pine snakes eat the gophers, but they then go on to live in their holes. Fewer gophers mean hungry, homeless pine snakes.

But the American Zoological Association is helping reintroduce and track the snakes inside a protected natural environment. So, these little guys, or girls, won't be in Jacksonville long.

The same can't be said for the Jacksonville Zoo’s other hatchling — the Magellanic penguin.

Reptile and bird curator Mike Taylor said unlike the pine snakes that can be safely reintroduced to the wild, the penguin hatchling just doesn't have a stable enough place to live in its natural South American habitat.

“Unfortunately, it takes a lot of planning and a lot of resources as far as habitat in the wild to be able to put birds or animals back in the wild,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the safest place for this bird is a zoo. Once it’s strong enough to live in a public enclosure, visitors can get acquainted.