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Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?

Staten Island Zoo scales new heights.

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Doesn’t every educational institution draw inspiration from reality TV? The keepers at the Staten Island Zoo credit their new Fear Zone—an aggressively creepy exhibit devoted to snakes—in part to Fear Factor. “I felt that, using the idea of fear, those who love scary movies, those who love Fear Factor, and love the idea of being teased to the edge of fear would be enticed to come to the exhibit, and once we had them, we had them,” explained the zoo’s executive director John Caltabiano. (Long brainstorming sessions with world-renowned herpetologists also entered into the mix, lest you think that the zoo has gone completely pop-culture.) The new Carl Kauffeld Reptile Wing replaces a dank reptile area that had barely changed since the zoo opened in 1936, and incorporates $15 million worth of new space and natural-style habitats, with a seventeen-foot reticulated python front and center. And there’s no easing into it. At the entrance, an ophidiophobe’s worst nightmare begins: a 100-foot snake skeleton is suspended from the ceiling. A little further down is a mechanical demonstration of how wide a snake can crank open its jaw (“Enough to consume a watermelon,” says Caltabiano). And if all the other live specimens, sound effects, huge graphics about venom glands, and X-rays of a snake digesting a mouse don’t freak you out, Caltabiano is hoping that one last exhibit will take you over the edge (or scare the fear out of you). As visitors leave, a staffer is there with a boa constrictor, ripe for the petting.

Staten Island Zoo, 614 Broadway, nr. Clove Rd., Staten Island (718-442-3100 or statenislandzoo.org); $7 grown-ups, $5 kids, $4 seniors, free for kids 3 and younger. Free on-site parking.


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