Ten years ago, many reptile houses in zoos were closing. A trend had emerged among zoos to arrange exhibits around a zoographical theme that involved mixing large animals with the small – leaving many of the reptiles and amphibians in the shadows. The Fort Worth Zoo, home of the original herpetarium, found that its once world-class facility built in the 1960s was on the verge of becoming substandard. Instead of closing the doors on this premier ectotherm collection, the Zoo set out to build a structure worthy of the collections’ stature and change the way reptiles and amphibians were viewed forever. The first-of-its-kind, award-winning, Museum of Living Art(MOLA), was built in 2010 to bring guests eye-to-eye with some of the most exotic and endangered species on the planet. Showcasing this collection with a museum-style approach allowed for the often-overlooked and misunderstood species to be viewed with reverence and appreciation as living, breathing, works of art – drawing people from all over the world.
Ten MOLA accomplishments over the past 10 years
1. Olaf, the world’s FIRST Puerto Rican crested toad – hatched from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) utilizing frozen semen collected from the wild for our signature Puerto Rican Crested Toad (PRCT) reintroduction program.
2. After opening in 2010, MOLA won TWO major awards: “Top Honors Award for Exhibitory, 2011” from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the building’s architects, Gideon Toal, received the Associated General Contractors of America “Building of America Award 2010” for their design.
3. More than THREE million people have walked through MOLA in the last 10 years, hopefully gaining a newfound appreciation for reptiles and amphibians.
4. In addition to the PRCT program, we have FOUR active long-term reintroduction programs: Chiricahua leopard frogs, Houston Toads, Texas horned lizards and Louisiana pine snakes.
5. MOLA is led by a team of FIVE well-respected female herpetological and aquatic experts, which is a rare occurrence in this profession and industry.
6. SIX rooms were specifically built within MOLA that allow management of species intended for reintroduction within biosecure environments. These rooms include specialized, insulated, hibernacula with adjustable temperature ranges (50F to 90F) for hibernating and breeding species from widely varied environmental parameters, such as hot deserts, warm rainforests or cold mountain tops.
7. With increased staffing, space and resources, MOLA enabled expanded efforts to participate with many conservation programs, including SEVEN Texas-native species: Louisiana pine snake, Texas horned lizards, Texas freshwater mussels, Texas kangaroo rats, Pecos pupfish, Houston toads and monarch butterflies.
8. We have developed collaborative working partnerships for herp species conservation with EIGHT universities: Texas Christian University, Texas State, Texas A&M University, University of Texas, University of Puerto Rico, Mississippi State University, University of Virgin Islands and University of New Mexico. These important scientific research projects not only add to our collective understanding of reptile, amphibian, fish and invertebrate species, but also provide training opportunities for many students and interns.
9. Within MOLA there are NINE specialized incubators used to hatch reptile eggs, including many rare and endangered species such as Forsten’s tortoises, island iguanas and Rio Fuerte beaded lizards.
10. Even after TEN years, MOLA is still considered the best example of a herpetarium in the country, and colleagues still visit from all over the world to learn how MOLA and the dedicated ectotherms team functions so that they can enhance their own facilities and programs.