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Rescued from Accidental Capture, Animals Thriving at Zoo

ABQ BioPark Only Facility to Raise Venomous Sea Snakes

Curator Hotle holds a sea snake.

The exclusively-aquatic striped sea snake, Hydrophis fasciatus, native to the Indian Ocean, is extremely difficult to care for in captivity, and the ABQ BioPark has helped a pair of these snakes thrive since their arrival on April 22, 2011.

The snakes, among the most deadly species on the planet, were accidentally included in a marine fish order placed by a wholesaler in California. The BioPark responded to a notice sent around the country looking for someone to house the snakes. Four hours later, BioPark staff transferred the three-foot-long snakes to a large, round tank in the aquatic facility behind-the-scenes at the Zoo.

No facility in the U.S. has successfully raised this species in captivity. With no model to follow, staff is continually adapting their care, combining expertise from aquarists and herpetologists. The snakes will remain off exhibit as zookeepers learn more about their needs.

“This is a very sensitive animal and usually does not fare well, or even eat, in captivity,” said Doug Hotle, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians. “They are thriving, gaining weight and exhibiting natural behaviors. This is not just a break-through in learning how to raise them, as that is not the primary goal of a zoo. We’re learning about a rarely studied species and how to protect it in the wild. Each day, the snakes teach us things that we would never learn in the wild.”

Hotle said a major challenge is providing adequate amounts of fresh water and a low-stress environment. Though they are marine reptiles and spend their entire lives in the ocean, sea snakes require fresh water and drink from the layer that collects on the surface of the ocean after a rainfall. Hotle plans to present his department’s findings at the International Herpetological Society in Ft. Worth, Texas in July.

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