Trunkline Magazine (Louisville Zoo) March 2019 - Page 7

Bill McMahan with Africa / Giraffe staff including (right to left) keeper Silvia Zirkelbach, Butch Haft, Virginia Crossett, Frank Bullock (the Louisville Zoo's first keeper) and Candy McMahan — Candy and Bill married after they met at the Louisville Zoo. taking care of the future residents of the HerpAquarium, a collection of animals like snakes, frogs, and lots of fresh water species of fish that were temporarily housed in an off-site facility near Illinois Avenue. Bill was also assisting in building and outfitting the HerpAquarium. It was during this period that Bill put forth his idea of bringing Cuban crocodiles to the Louisville Zoo. “When we first started coming up with ideas for the HerpAquarium, I really wanted to include Cuban crocs. They are rare in Zoos and even rarer in the wild. They are living fossils, like many crocs — but under much more duress. I thought it was a dynamic species to feature. Director John Walczak, cura- tor at the time, was fantastic and said, ‘let’s do it.’ Shortly after, we got a letter from another zoo cautioning us against working with the species. They are aggressive reptiles. After it was all said and done though, that zoo became one of our most vocal supporters.” The Cuban Crocodile Species Sur- vival Plan (SSP) was the first SSP that the Louisville Zoo initiated and led. SSPs serve to protect the genetic diversity of animals in managed environments and safeguard species in the wild. “It was the first time that the Louisville Zoo worked in situ, in the home range of a species, in another country for the conser- vation of an animal.” Bill said. He describes visits to Cuba that would make most of us cringe — wad- ing through sweltering swamps amongst the snakes, crocs and the biting flies — but were exciting for Bill and his fellow conservationists. The SSP also included educational outreach within Cuba through a community-wide Cuban Crocodile Festival on the Island of Youth – an important effort to shore up local support for the species. Former Edu- cation Curator Marcelle Gianelloni, who was born in Cuba, joined Bill in this mission to help the species. Bill was recently recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for his 25 years of leadership and dedication to the Cuban Crocodile Species Survival Program. Bill’s other proud moments include spearheading the Louisville Zoo’s very first ecological study of native Kentucky wildlife. This involved the use of radiotelemetry, tracking and monitoring timber rattlesnakes for 5 years in Bern- heim Forest. “Before that time,” Bill shared, “people didn’t know if timber rattlesnakes hibernated like northern snakes in large aggre- gations, or solitary like southern snakes. We found out that in Ken- tucky, they go to separate places to hibernate.” Also participating in this ecological study was keeper Mike Jones and representatives from Bernheim Forest and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Information from the study is currently being used for a timber rattlesnake conservation ac- tion plan. And of course, you can’t mention Bill’s “snakey” milestones without mentioning that it was the Louisville Zoo’s HerpAquarium staff, under Bill’s leadership, that first discovered that the world’s largest snake, the reticulated python, is capable of parthenogenesis or virgin birth. The Louisville Zoo certainly would not be the same without Bill. His pioneering spirit and passion for animals in need are Bill’s legacy to the Louisville Zoo and to wildlife everywhere. When you visit the Louisville Zoo, be sure to include stops at the HerpAquarium and the Islands to see the Cuban crocs, snakes, reptiles and amphibians — and learn about their unique fea- tures, contributions and challenges. If you stop by the Cuban crocodile exhibit in the Islands, you can even see where it all began for Bill: the exhibit’s title “The Last of the Ruling Reptiles” bears the same title as the book that inspired Bill’s lifelong dedication to wildlife. Did you know? AZA Standards are continually evaluated and enhanced to provide the very best animal welfare and safety. These stan- dards have changed dramati- cally over the decades leading to providing animals more enrichment, more self-directed choice and advanced preven- tative health care through op- erant conditioning, allowing keepers to remain in protected contact (with a barrier in be- tween) during everyday care.) Louisville Zoo Trunkline • Spring 2019 • 7