Alligator Farm helps San Diego Zoo to protect various species
By KATI BEXLEY
The San Diego Zoo is looking to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park to stock its frozen crocodilian genetic bank.
The San Diego Zoo houses the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species, which keeps frozen genetic samples of animals and reptiles to study and to prevent endangerment of a species.
For 18 months, the center has relied on the Alligator Farm for the crocodilian species samples.
"Nowhere else in the world does anyone have all the (crocodile) species," said Valentine Lance, center senior scientist. "The only place that comes close is a farm in Thailand."
Kent Vliet is a crocodilian biologist at the University of Florida and serves as the Alligator Farm's scientific adviser. Vliet's colleague Valentine Lance is a center senior scientist. Lance asked the farm to supply crocodilian samples for San Diego.
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DAVID KLEDZIK and Kent Vliet take a sample from the endangered Tomistoma Crocodile from Indonesia.
-By Kati Bexley/Staff
"I've worked with Kent for more than 20 years," Lance said. "We requested samples from other places, but only the St. Augustine Alligator Farm has come through."
"I told them I'd commit to providing one of each species," Vliet said.
The center has 21 individual samples, which covers 15 species, from the Alligator Farm. There are 23 crocodilian species and they include crocodiles, alligators, caimans and gavials. Of the 23, 18 are on the federal Endangered Species Act List, said David Kledzik, Alligator Farm reptile curator.
The farm has had all 23 species since 1993. "For our (the Alligator Farm's) 100th anniversary in 1993 the owner decided to have the complete species here for research," he said.
Farm staff such as Kledzik take less than a quarter-inch clipping from the webbing in between a reptile's back foot, place it in a buffer solution in a small container, and Fed Ex it to San Diego.
"They'll get it the next day," Kledzik said.The Alligator Farm takes a sample when there is an actual need to capture the reptile, such as moving it to another environment, Kledzik said. The reptile's blood samples are also sent to the center. It researches a sample before putting it in its bank.
"We take the skin biopsy and grow it to a certain amount until we have enough to save in the frozen zoo and contain the chromosomes and compare them," said Marlys Houck, head of the center's frozen zoo.
The frozen zoo has 6,000 individual samples in liquid nitrogen tanks kept at -320 degrees. If it sounds like a scene from the first "Jurassic Park" movie that's because it is.
"They came out to film it (the frozen tanks). The art director got his ideas from us," Houck said.
Representatives of the center and the Alligator Farm said the DNA samples are used to preserve the species.
"We can see cloning in the future be it's not our main focus," Houck said. "Having these banks is like a genetic library. People can go there and check out different crocodilians. It helps define the species," Kledzik said.
Lance said the farm has proven to be a valuable source for center research.
"To me it's a fantastic resource," Lance said. "There's no way we could have gotten near the amount of samples without their help."