A Komodo dragon - the largest lizard in the world - and a Bushmaster snake - the longest venonmous snake in the Western Hemisphere - are among the more than 40 creepy crawlers in the all-new Donna M. Fernandes Amphibian and Reptile Center at the Buffalo Zoo.
The public will get its first look Friday at the $3.8 million expansion project named for the zoo's former President and CEO, who came back to town for Thursday's ribbon cutting.
"I'm thrilled that my name is on a building that celebrates such important taxa as reptiles and amphibians," Fernandes said. "They're such critically endangered species now in both of those taxa because of what we've been doing to the planet the last 100+ years that it's just wonderful for me to be celebrated in this way."
Originally designed and opened nearly 80 years ago by famed zoologist and former Buffalo Zoo Curator Marlin Perkins, the center now includes state-of-the-art micro-environments, a conservation room for animal care experts and interactive graphics, including an 18-foot mural created by award-winning contemporary artist James Pate.
Zoo Board Chair John Dandes called the ribbon cutting a "transformational moment."
"When the Amphibian and Reptile Center opened in 1942, it was deemed the finest in the nation and this renovation restores it to its original glory with much needed upgrades," said Dandes. "We know this is the start of new beginnings at the Buffalo Zoo."
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul praised Fernandes for the "11 significant projects" she accomplished during Buffalo's "dark ages."
"This was not a time when people were flocking to Buffalo. Young people were leaving and visitors were leaving. It was perhaps the end of our decline," Hochul said. "You brought such a vitality and enthusiasm and passion for your work here that it was absolutely contagious."
State Assemblymember Sean Ryan (D-Buffalo) said it was also important that Fernandes be honored "in perpetuity."
"So when young kids from all around Western New York, especially young girls, when they come here they'll look up at the building and see Donna Fernandes Reptile House," Ryan said, "and it's a great role model for what young girls can turn into strong leaders."
The project also competes the first master plan for the zoo, the third-oldest in the United States. Funds were provided by New York State, the City of Buffalo, Mark G. Russell, the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, the Montgomery Family Foundation, Robert Fox and Lisa Basil-Fox and other donors.