• Marco

El Serpentario de La Paz: Urban Animal Shelter

Updated: Mar 20

Lizards and Bunnies and Snakes, Oh My!

UPDATE: Due to the ongoing Coronavirus problem, the Serpentario has announced it will be closed from 21 March 2020 for at least a month.

On a down day, Mrs Wench and I decided on a whim to go and investigate El Serpentario de La Paz. It's a small, non-profit wildlife centre / rescue and education facility, about a mile from the west end of the Malecón.

Despite the name, they have more than just snakes. They take in rescue animals - often from peoples' houses - and look after them till they can be returned to the wild or rehomed. Although I'm not sure where the turtles came from. There must have been 4 or 5 dozen of them - it was like a scene from Jurassic Park:

Be afraid.

Admission is a donation of around MX$180 for adults, and MX$90 for kids. They also sell small packets of food for MX$5 each; I suggest getting one of each. The turtles are the first animals you come across, and they go wild for their food pellets. Seriously, I'd no idea these things could move that fast 😄

There's an enclosure for the Rhinoceros Iguana next, but it was being rebuilt when we were there. Next up is a palapa covered section full of terrariums, in most of which were snakes. Mainly rattlesnakes. I didn't need to see the skull and crossbones sign on the tanks to keep a safe distance.

The most quirky and interesting specimen was the Rattleless Rattlesnake, Crotalus catalinensis.

Crotalus catalinensis. (Image Yinan Chen, Wikipedia)

This little guy is part of a critically endangered species, found only on one of the uninhabited islands off the coast of Baja Sur. They grow up to about a foot long. It used to be believed it lost its rattle to help it catch birds. (Think cats and collar bells). However, analysis of its diet suggests that it doesn't actually prey on birds; the loss of the rattle is now thought simply to be due to a lack of predators needing warned off.

The dark room was next, and again in large displays they keep a variety of local snakes, spiders (yes, including tarantulas) and lizards. They had a Black Widow Spider too. The most toxic spider in North America, a quick google search reveals that their bite is "hardly ever" fatal to humans.

I kept my distance anyway.

(A Gila monster, python, and baby tortoises!)

El Serpentario: Not Just Snakes!

Next on the tour was the aquarium; apart from a couple of Mexican Musk Turtles trying to escape their tank, the fish were pretty dull.

There's a large albino Burmese python - you can get your photo taken with him for MX$50. He's harmless and very dopey.

Round the corner was Cascabel. Who is Cascabel? He's a Harris Falcon. And he has a job:

Mexico's highest-paid falcon?

When he's not enjoying some downtime in the El Serpentario, he's working up at La Paz airport as a wildlife controller. Cascabels' job is to fly up and down the runway scaring / eating any animals which might get in the way of the aircraft 😄

Rescue grey fox. A beautiful, sort of dog-cat-squirrel thing.

Round from the most employable bird in Mexico is a row of enclosures containing iguanas. Lots of iguanas. If you like iguanas (and I do) these guys are coool.

The Fun Part - For Big Kids

Finally, the highlight of the day. If you're half as much of a big kid as myself and Mrs Wench, you'll love the aviary.

A smallish enclosed space with double doors to keep the birds in, it's full of budgies, small parrots, and other birds I didn't even recognise. For double the fun, they also keep rabbits and guinea pigs. Remember the food I said to get at the top of the article? Apart from the turtle food, there's some for the bunnies and some for the birds.

We spent an excellent half hour feeding the tykes on the ground, and pouring seed into our hands for the birds to land on and guzzle.

Feed me, or I'll gnaw your fingers off...
At one point I had about 5 on my hand, two on my arm and one on my head!

After the aviary there's a bathroom and wash basin, as well as the small gift shop back at the entrance.

The Serpentario is a small organisation mainly staffed by volunteers. They clearly don't have a load of money; although the animals seem well-cared for, the place itself could use some TLC. Admission is a donation of around MX$180/90, and there's a donation box by the entrance.

They do good work and outreach education. I heartily recommend a visit; pay the admission, buy lots of bunny food, drop $50 pesos in the donations box and buy something from the shop.

Honestly, it's worth twice that just for half an hour with the birds and the rabbits 😀

(El Serpentario has a Facebook page, if you're looking for more information.)

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Mexico Travel Blog | marco@jocksaway.com