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Komodo dragons, new reptile center will enhance the zoo’s mission

The Buffalo Zoo, already home to some exotic wildlife, is about to add an attraction sure to draw visitors, especially anyone familiar with B-movies featuring fright-inducing Komodo dragons.

The zoo’s Komodo dragons won’t be as scary as the ones cinema magic made appear gigantic. They will, though, be the main attraction when the 73-year-old Reptile House is renovated.

The plan is to also include conservation pods that will spotlight the zoo’s role in breeding two highly endangered species, the Panamanian golden frog and the Puerto Rican crested toad.

These improvements require funding. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is providing $500,000 for the Reptile House. That is one-fifth of the $2.5 million needed to renovate the building, which will be renamed the Amphibian and Reptile Center.

The renovations will include ridding the building of the lead-based paint used when it was built. The house’s interior brick walls and brass railings will be preserved. Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown put $267,000 into his 2015 budget for skylights, upgrades to life-support systems and a new roof.

Zoo President Donna Fernandes, who has been at the helm during a remarkable transformation, said she hopes demolition can start in September 2016, with an opening the following June, on the building’s 75th anniversary.

Zoo officials are employing a useful fundraising technique, selling naming rights for each of the enclosures to help pay for the renovation. The possibilities range from $10,000 up to $100,000 for the Komodo dragon exhibit.

Some fast facts on the Komodo: it is the largest lizard in the world, reaching about 8 feet long; its size and venomous bite make it among the most lethal; forked tongues and bony plates give it a prehistoric appearance; it is native to a handful of Indonesian islands.

The reptile center won’t be the end of the zoo’s improvements. A $6 million Himalayan Highlands exhibit is in the works, with an eye toward increasing the diversity of winter attractions.

The zoo’s educational mission continues as it adds to its wildlife collection, improving a family-friendly park where children and adults can learn from seeing some of nature’s most magnificent creatures. The addition of the Komodo dragon and renovation of the Reptile House is another great example of that ongoing effort.