The Gladys Porter Zoo has two new attractions that will be on interest to visitors. The first is the new Russell Aquatics Center with 28 exhibits of marine life found in the resacas, Rio Grande River and Gulf of Mexico.
According to Public Relations Assistant Arianna Barrera, the biggest attraction to this building is the interactive Stingray Touch Tank where children (of all ages) can actually reach into the tanks and feel the stingrays. The tank is large and it is fun to watch these funny looking sea creatures that seem to have a smile on their backs zipping back and forth in the tank to the delight of all.
Another popular exhibit is a 300,000-gallon tank that is 26 feet by 26 feet tall. It houses a variety of fish found in the Gulf of Mexico including black drum, red snapper, sheepshead, snook, jacks, hermit crabs and, of course, sharks.
In addition, there are a number of smaller tanks housing a variety of local marine life they may encounter some day at the beach or in a local resaca. According to Barrera, the exhibits are designed to teach local children and other visitors about the marine life found in the waters of South Texas rather than bringing in exotic marine life from other areas. Tanks feature a variety of different species of fish found in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Laguna Madre. One tank is a brightly lit scene of a coral reef with colorful fish. Another houses a giant sea turtle on loan from Sea Turtle, Inc. where it underwent rehabilitation after being found with an injury. Jellyfish have a tank of their own.
Other exhibits teach about the marine habitat found in the local resacas that run through Brownsville. From turtles to giant catfish, these are the creatures the residents of Brownsville may encounter. Look for bass, soft-shell crabs and snapping turtles.
Another small tank has fish that have been introduced into the area, such as Angelfish.
Barrera said many people buy these fish for their aquariums but release them when they grow too big. Although they are not native to the area, so many have been released they now have a large enough population that they may easily be seen in the area.
In addition to the new aquatics center, the new South Texas Discovery Center opened in November. According to Emma Mitchell who is coordinator for the center, there is 396 percent more educational space for the projects conducted at the zoo. The center can also be rented for birthday parties or other special events. It will be used for the annual Summer Safari classes that are offered each year so that children who are out of school can spend time learning more about the animals found in the zoo.
Inside the lobby there are display cases that show the indigenous Mexican Milk Snake and the Texas Bull Snake on one side. The other display cases show a variety of Texas critters including the Dung Beetles, the Texas Tarantula, the Texas Giant Millipede, the Texas Bark Scorpion and the Giant Vinegardon. The exhibit hall also features bio facts about the indigenous live animals on display.
There is a display of cacti and of local seeds and weeds. Mitchell explained, in areas prone to drought, animals need more protection so the plants tend to have stickers and thorns to protect them. The drier the climate, the thornier the habitat.
Gladys Porter Zoo is located in the center of Brownsville on 26 acres of land filled with tropical plants. It is home to over 1600 animals. Because of its tropical location, it has had a great deal of success with breeding exotic animals because the temperatures and conditions in the Rio Grande Valley are very similar to the native habitats of some of those animals. The zoo is divided into islands separated by resacas so many of the animals can be seen in what resembles their natural habitat. Animals of Africa, Asia, Tropical America and Indo-Australia can be found at the zoo.
The zoo has a nursery to care for its newborn animals, a petting zoo, a free-flight aviary, a Komodo dragon exhibit, a Galapagos Tortoises exhibit, plus many more exhibits.
The zoo is located at 500 Ringgold Street in Brownsville. Take the 6th Street exit from Expressway 77/83 and go to Ringgold Street. The zoo is open daily all year long. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults and $8.50 for seniors over 65.
Take advantage of a warm sunny day in South Texas while friends up north are digging out from under three feet of snow and enjoy this tropical Texas zoo.