Behind The Scenes At Reptile Gardens

Raised in Rapid City and lucky to call it home, this outdoor enthusiast loves to explore the Black Hills with her husband and two dogs. When she’s not at work you’ll find her out hiking, at a local ice cream shop, or perhaps home taking a nap.

February 15, 2019

Discover how the World’s Largest Reptile Zoo is preparing for the 2019 season!

When it comes to preparing for a new season, you might not realize how much work and planning some of our seasonal attractions actually have to do. I certainly didn’t. We were offered to come out and see the behind the scenes work taking place at Reptile Gardens as they gear up for the new season, and it was impressive. After my field trip this week I have a whole new level of appreciation for the World’s Largest Reptile Zoo.

Let’s start with this – the staff at Reptile Gardens is great. No wonder they win awards. Every staff member we met was extremely friendly, knowledgeable and expressed so much love for what they did and the reptiles they cared for. The reptile specialist we met kept referring to the snakes as people, and while they aren’t my thing it was heartwarming to hear they receive that level of care.

It doesn’t take a lot of research or multiple visits to realize how stunning the grounds are at Reptile Gardens. But what most people don’t know is the amount of planning and work it takes to create this gorgeous walking botanical garden. Starting in December, staff at Reptile Gardens sketch out each area and floral arrangement based on feedback from the previous year. These sketches include colors wanted as well as the flowers or plants needed for all 40 areas of the grounds. They order everything from a local floral shop, and after everything arrives it takes staff around three weeks of planting (weather permitting). During this time period a lot of other maintenance is taking place to keep the ground features looking nice. One we witnessed on our visit – each year they have to power wash the rocks in the Sky Dome to keep them from turning green! It’s a long process to get everything done, but the end result is always spectacular.

our tour took us to the work being done in the reptile area of the Sky Dome. Due to water that can slowly damage the enclosures, each year in the off season the reptile team has to rebuild the reptile homes. This year the team also began working to create a new color scheme for the reptile enclosures to give them an updated appearance. The team also has to make room for new reptiles they received in the off season. Since the enclosures are all different sizes with different levels of heat distribution it takes a lot of planning. The staff has to evaluate what temperature each reptile needs and ensure it has the proper amount of space. For example, climbing reptiles need the taller enclosures so they have room to climb the branches. We ended this part of the tour with visiting a Hognose snake, which is just one of seventeen snake species found in South Dakota! And if I am being honest, this guy was actually pretty cute for a snake.

The last part of the behind the scenes tour took us to where the birds live during the off season. While some of these birds live in the Sky Dome during the visitor season, we learned that during the summer the birds still have to be walked back to this building each night because they get into mischief when left alone in the dome. It was here that we met Maravilla, a new and young Yellow-headed Vulture that Reptile Gardens will be introducing into their 2019 shows. But before her big debut, they have to first get her comfortable with things like strollers, wheelchairs, cameras, loud noises, active children and more so she is prepared for what she might encounter during a show. Different staff members at Reptile Gardens actually take turns playing out different situations to prepare the birds.

It takes a lot of planning, training and work to get ready for a new season. But after one visit to Reptile Gardens you’ll appreciate all they do. From the shows, to the beauty of the grounds, to the pleasantness of each and every staff member, their hard work pays off and will give you and your family one incredible experience. Plus, stay tuned for an exciting new announcement from Reptile Gardens in May! 

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