People often try to smuggle exotic animals into the country, either for the pet trade or, in some cases, for food or traditional medicine. When they are caught, the animals are held while United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) contact the country of origin to learn whether officials there are willing to pay the cost of repatriating the animals. If not, the animals are generally transferred to zoos. The Gray’s monitors in the LAIR were confiscated in 2010. Native to the Philippines, Gray’s monitors were once thought to be extinct. Their natural habitat has been largely destroyed. Returning these animals to the wild isn’t feasible because it would be impossible to determine where they originated. Los Angeles Zoo is one of only a few zoos in the nation to house this species.
The Los Angeles Zoo has partnered with the San Diego Zoo and Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon to develop a program for the long-term study of Insular and West Mexican Herptofauna in captivity with the purpose of exploring and studying some of Western Mexico’s little known reptiles and amphibians. The L.A. Zoo helped to fund a scientific study into the biology and activity patterns of captive Mexican lance-headed and Tamaulipan rock rattlesnakes. Both species are in need of conservation attention due to their limited range and alteration of their habitat.
The false gharial (also known as the tomistoma), a species of crocodilian that can reach 15 feet length, is the largest species housed in the LAIR. Despite its large size, the false gharial is an endangered species in its native Southeast Asia. Funded in part by a grant from the L.A. Zoo, the Tomistoma Task Force organized a conservation workshop last year in Lake Mesangat, Indonesia aimed at engaging the local community in efforts to monitor and protect the false gharial. During the workshop, biologists conducted a survey of false gharial nest sites and hatchlings in the region.
Turtles and Tortoises
The Los Angeles Zoo has provided ongoing financial support to the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), a global partnership aiming at preventing turtle extinction. Zoo funds have supported construction and expansion of tortoise enclosures at conservation centers in Madagascar and Myanmar, and repatriation of more than 400 confiscated tortoises to Madagascar. The LAIR houses radiated and spider tortoises from Madagascar and the desert tortoise found locally in California.
The Los Angeles Zoo is actively involved in amphibian conservation. Amphibians have permeable skin and are highly susceptible to changes in water quality, air quality, and temperature. For this reason, they are early indicators to the biological and environmental community of habitat degradation.
In 2011, the L.A. Zoo bred and released California’s critically endangered mountain yellow-legged frog. Although this species is not on exhibit in the LAIR it demonstrates the tremendous work that zoo staff does behind the scenes to protect local wildlife.
The LAIR will house the Chinese giant salamander, the world’s largest amphibian. This species has suffered an 80 percent population decline since the 1950s. The L.A. Zoo helps to fund a collaborative project between the Memphis Zoo, Mississippi State University, and Shaanxi Institute of Zoology to monitor the reintroduction of captive-bred giant salamanders to China’s Shaanxi Province.