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Reptiles relish new digs at Corpus Christi botanical gardens

Ivan the iguana enjoys his newly renovated home at South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center, 8545 S. Staples St. in Corpus Christi. The garden reopened to visitors in June. Courtesy photo

Ivan the iguana and Spyro the bearded dragon eagerly wait to greet guests in their newly renovated Resident Reptiles habitat inside the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center in Corpus Christi.

The garden’s cold-blooded inhabitants fared well during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown as they continued to receive constant care from staff, said Executive Director Michael Womack.

“Our biggest challenge had been to find a time when we could close down the reptile exhibit for three to four weeks in order to renovate,” he said. “Suddenly, the pandemic lockdown gave us that opportunity. During the renovation, we moved all the animals into our empty classroom.”

The indoor exhibit was remodeled from floor to ceiling. Carpets were replaced with water-resistant, stained concrete flooring, better suited for high traffic and easier to disinfect. The ceiling and walls were repainted, enhanced lighting was installed, and wood cabinetry was replaced with reinforced metal shelving.

The reptilian showcase recently reopened as a “touchless experience.” Six guests can enter together with social distancing and masks.

“The new design has a better flow and is easier for cleaning and sanitizing and has less potential for dust and allergens,” Womack said. “The individual tanks give us easier access around each of the enclosures and have a more uniform look. With this new design, we now have a separate storage and workspace that is off site, so the area has a more fresh, modern, and professional look.”

At the garden, visitors can explore floral exhibits, hiking trails, a bird tower, a wetland boardwalk, updated outdoor parrot and reptile exhibits, the Sam Jones Orchid Conservatory, a renovated Butterfly House, the newly constructed Plumeria Garden (now in season with a renovated viewing ramp), and more!

“We planted fresh roses in the Rose Garden and added more weed cloth and fresh mulch to produce a nice, finished look while reducing our long-term weed maintenance,” Womack continued. “We also refreshed our Bromeliad Conservatory. Now that we have the (Gov. Greg Abbott's) clearance, we can hold our summer camps.”

The Visitors Center and the Children’s Play Area are temporarily closed as precautions against the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Portable restrooms near the Visitors Center will be equipped with hand sanitizer. Until gathering sizes officially change, weekend "Parrot Talk" and "Rep-Tales" programs, indoor Saturday classes, Orchid-ology programs, most rentals, and group tours are temporarily suspended.

Admission, which has been temporarily reduced by $2 per ticket, can be purchased online at stxbot.org or by credit or debit card on site. No cash, please. Guests enter through the Visitors Center Plaza outdoor gazebo. Hand sanitizer stations have been placed at the entrance. Face masks and social distancing are mandatory. Guests also should bring personal hand sanitizer and drinks. Family picnic lunches allowed.

The South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is located at 8545 S. Staples St. in Corpus Christi. For more information, call 361-852-2100 or visit stxbot.org.

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