Unveiling of new reptile home

YOU could be forgiven for thinking the town’s aquarium had suddenly turned into a tropical rainforest in the Amazon, with snakes, reptiles and all manner of creepy crawlies.

But it is all part of Blue Reef’s exciting plans to draw in more visitors with the creation of its Jungle Room, an area that is to become home to a wide array of exotic reptiles from around the world.

Chris Ireland with Agnes, a Bearded Dragon

Chris Ireland with Agnes, a Bearded Dragon

The work is already under way with the first stage of the room’s construction already complete. The second stage is set to take place over the winter with the aim of being fully operational before summer next year.

Mention snakes or talk about pythons though and people naturally become fearful, thinking all such animals are venomous, when in fact many are not.

Blue Reef, for instance, does not display any venomous reptiles at all and the whole point of creating a dedicated attraction at the aquarium for reptiles is to dispel some of the myths surrounding these creatures, says Chris Ireland, the aquarium’s director.

He told the Observer: “Reptiles are one of the most misunderstood groups of animals on the planet. They have been around for millions of years and are perfectly adapted to their environments. Hopefully this new area will help people to see them in a different light.”

Among the reptilian residents of the new attraction at Blue Reef, based in Rock-a-Nore Road, will be Terry, an eight-foot-long Coastal Carpet Python, Bearded Dragons Geraldine, Phyllis and Agnes and a newly-donated Boa Constrictor named Marley.

Coastal Carpet Pythons are widespread in Australia in eastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales, as well as in New Guinea. Beared Dragons are commonly found in the semi-desert areas of Australia.

The new display also features a Royal Python known as The Professor, as well as Macklot’s Pythons and Jamaican Boa Constrictors.

Mr Ireland, who once worked at West Midland Safari Park in Bewdley, Worcestershire, also believes the Jungle Room will build upon the aquarium’s already popular ‘meet the creatures’ encounters which take place three times a day, giving guests the chance to face their fears and get hands on with the reptiles.

The new area also includes a series of other interactive activities for younger visitors and an educational display cabinet containing a selection of shark teeth, coral, shells and sea urchins.

So far the work in setting up the dedicated Jungle Room has cost in the region of £10,000.

Mr Ireland said: “We decided on the back of already introducing some reptiles last year that it would be a good idea to get them on show in one room, as they have already proved to be popular with our visitors.

“This is the first phase in an ongoing development programme and will allow visitors to come face to face with some of planet’s most exciting and unusual reptiles. The second stage will see development over the winter months with the introduction of insects from the jungle, as well as other creepy crawlies. It should all be up and ready by Easter next year.

“As this is an ongoing project the final budget is still yet to be determined. Running costs so far have been around £10,000.

“There will be special talks and ‘meet the creatures’ encounter sessions which will provide people with a fascinating insight into the world of the reptiles and we will also be showcasing the individual stories and personalities of the snakes and lizards.”

As well as the addition of exotic insect and spider species, the Jungle Room will also become home to Blue Reef’s resident frogs as well as Noel, the aquarium’s Veiled Chameleon.