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Hardworking Herpetologists

October was a busy month for the VLM Herps team and November is shaping up to be equally challenging. In addition to the multitude of daily, weekly and monthly tasks performed by the department, the herpetology team has branched out, working on special projects to improve our animal husbandry, guest experience, and professional relationships with other facilities. Last week, Herpetology Curator Travis Land and Herpetology Assistant Sonya Marker took on two very different projects with unique challenges and experiences.

Travis seemed to draw the short straw, and set to work on repairing the American Alligator exhibit. As mentioned in my previous post Goodbye Gator!, Travis’ goal was to repair the exhibit glass, smoothing out the myriad of scratches left by a decade of alligator wear and tear. The process was delicate: using an orbital sander, Travis had to sand the acrylic with finer and finer grades of sandpaper, removing the scratches while slowly making the glass clear enough to see through.

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The project has its share of challenges. Keeping acrylic dust out of the water was the first hurdle, and a plastic sheet was employed to catch what was sanded off, preventing damage to the water system and health problems for the numerous inhabitants of the Cypress Swamp. The sanding had to be particularly gentle, enough to remove the deep scratches, but not so much that it drastically changed the thickness of the glass. If any areas are sanded thinner than others, the glass could have a “fun house mirror” appearance.

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Travis expects the project to be completed Wednesday, November 18, but until then he’s absolutely swamped with work! (I won’t apologize for bad puns)

While Travis was wading through the gator exhibit, Sonya Marker was hard at work in South Carolina, working with members of the local AAZK chapter on a project for the Turtle Survival Alliance. The TSA is a group that specializes in rescuing turtle species with a 100 year goal of zero turtle extinctions. They currently house over 650 freshwater South and Southeast Asian turtles and tortoises; of those, 32 species are the most critically endangered in the world due to poaching and collecting for the pet trade and valuable items.


The AAZK group is ready to work! (Sonya is second from the left)

“When the 5 members of the AAZK were there Nov 3-5th, 2015 we helped in the winterizing of their grounds,” said Sonya. “Shade cloths were removed so the sun can penetrate through screen buildings, part of the parameter fence was reinforced after having a large tree fall on it due to ground saturation from floods, and most importantly, approximately 500 turtles and tortoises were weighed and had identifying photos taken of them for documentation purposes. This task alone would have taken the team at least a week to accomplish. All animals were micro-chipped and some were notched by previous facilities, and a few still needed to be ‘pit tagged’ for later identification.”



As an active AZA facility, the Virginia Living Museum is always looking to expand our conservation role and improve cooperation among accredited facilities. Sonya did a fantastic job representing our herpetology department at the Turtle Survival Center! Now the turtles are prepared for the cold of winter!



  • anna mitchell

    does the museum accept turtles that are to be released into the wild after being in a tank for a few years? My husband was given 2 red eared sliders by our daughter, and against better judgement, kept them . They are quite large now and we can keep them but would prefer to release them to a zoo or museum. If the museum doesnt take them, is their a foundation that does?

    • Thomas Waser

      Hi Anna. Unfortunately, the short answer is that museum does not have the space nor resources to take in any more turtles. I would of course be happy to offer some resources and assistance in finding your pets a home. Contact me directly ( and I will send along some references and any helpful advice to get you guys started!

  • Patricia Wilkinson

    I am unable to send an email with photos to you; it was returned stating address not four