Slithering, slippery, croaking reptiles make debut at LA Zoo

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Lizards, snakes, crocs and other slithering, slippery creatures got ready for their close-ups Thursday at the opening of “The LAIR", the L.A. Zoo's new Living Amphibians, Invertebrates and Reptiles center.

“It is just amazing," said fifth-grader Jason Gibson of the Celerity Octavia Charter School. "You feel like you’re in a magical place.”

He beams as he describes how much he loved the fly river turtles with their pig-shaped noses and flipper feet, though they couldn't care less about posing for pics.

“My brother and my mom had trouble getting their shots ‘cause they’re kind of blurry... they’re moving all around, but they were awesome.”

Dozens of kids helped celebrate the grand opening of the reptile complex, marveling over (among other things) the world’s largest amphibian: the Chinese salamander, which lives in a makeshift mountainside stream.

There were neon green Fiji Island banded iguanas, scorpions, centipedes, Mexican beaded lizards, a viper from the mountains of China and the narrow-snouted false gharials, an endangered species of crocodile found in Southeast Asia.

Amari Anderson, a five-year-old kindergartener at Frederick Douglass Academy School in L.A., gave the exhibit an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

“I saw different color frogs. Yellow (and) blue," she said with a smile.

Those would be the poison dart frogs from Central and South America.

It took several years to get the new facility up and running. This is one of the few reptile houses to open in North America over the past decade.

While the rare species in the house roamed Earth long before humans, many now depend on people to survive.

L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes the L.A. Zoo, said he was sold at the project’s front door. (Actually at the roof — there’s a lush, green lawn on top.)

“Just don’t want anybody climbing up there because you can fall," he said anxiously during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "But that’s a wonderful exhibit that not only talks about reptiles and the connection to that nature, but in the modern world how we have to build sustainable, valued buildings.”

LAIR will house nearly 50 exhibits and 60 species. There’s even a snake room called “Betty’s Bite and Squeeze," so named after 90-year-old actress Betty White. White co-chairs the L.A. Zoo Association and stars in those TV commercials you may have seen, with rock musician Slash and a pair of Mexican giant horned lizards.

The reptile complex cost $14 million, funded by a city bond measure.

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