The 15 foot, six inch crocodile from Australia is one of the main attractions at the Fort Worth Zoo's new Museum of Living Art.
"I don't think there's anything like this in the whole wide world, and it's here in Fort Worth," board member and supporter Ramona Bass told the dignitaries gathered for today's ribbon cutting.
MOLA replaces the zoo's herpetarium which first opened in 1960. Board president Ardon Moore said the word herpetarium was first used at the Fort Worth Zoo. In comparing the old exhibit to MOLA, Moore said, "you'll see this is different, not just a house for snakes."
Snakes are there, but so are frogs, lizards, crocodilians, insects and fish. Thirty percent of the animals in MOLA are new to the zoo such as the 15-foot, six inch crocodile bought from a crocodile farmer in Darwin, Australia.
The croc swims in 75-degree water or lounges in the sun and is visible to diners in the new Crocodile Cafe. A two-inch glass wall lets diners get an up close view. On the other side, two gharials along with Painted Terrapin (turltles) can also be seen through the glass wall. Ectotherm curator Diane Barber considers the gharial exhibit MOLA'S showpiece.
"It's the only under water viewing in the country," Barber told NBCDFW. "We're really able to see the gharial's body. And our turtles are doing really cool breeding behavior we've never seen before like stroking each other's faces."
the $19 million MOLA opens to the public on Saturday, March 6, about six months later than what the zoo had originally planned.
"When we first planned it (the October 2009 opening) three years ago, we'd set that day but there were a couple of contractors (landscapers and artists) who were so busy they couldn't meet our schedule," explained director Michael Fouraker. "We asked ourselves, 'Do we take second best?' And we said, 'No.'"
Mayor Mike Moncrief said the result is "a lasting historic structure, not just a box." He said it adds, "one more jewel to this city's crown."
Much of the credit went to longtime zoo supporter Ramona Bass. Not only was she largely responsible for the fund raising, she also worked on the tiniest details such as the words for the signage. And, board president Moore said it was Bass who came up with the name MOLA.
"I wanted it to be something beautiful for the building, for the animals," Bass told NBCDFW. "Herpetarium is a place for snakes and amphibians but it's not a beautiful word. When you are at the exhibit, it's a work of art - a museum of living art."
Barber praises the functionality, too. She and other key animal staff members were involved in the process from concept to completion, insuring the animals had what the they needed such as heated water and skylights.
"I think it's gonna be trend-setting. And I think it will be a standard for zoos to follow," predicted Barber.
And Moncrief hopes an economic driver for the city.
"MOLA, which I've said before, translates to moolah," he jokingly told the crowd.