Taking Root

For Immediate Release: May 12, 2022

Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center Lays Groundwork for Bridge to the Wild

[Columbia, SC] — A wave of progress continues inside Riverbanks Zoo and Garden’s Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center. Construction is expected to be complete this fall.

Thanks to the generous support of the Boyd Foundation, the Conservation Center will boast dynamic new animal habitats and highlight Riverbanks’ role in wildlife conservation and conservation partnerships. Exhibits will offer captivating views of some of the world’s most precious and endangered wildlife and bring to the forefront animal care and conservation efforts taking place behind-the-scenes at Riverbanks every day.

“About 90% of our work to protect rare and endangered species takes place off habitat,” said Sean Foley, curator of herpetology at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. “A conservation project that I am particularly excited about showing off is our Malagasy leaf-tailed gecko breeding program.”

Riverbanks has had significant success hatching more than 2,000 leaf-tailed geckos in the last two decades. Because of the Zoo’s tremendous achievements in breeding geckos, Riverbanks was recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2005 for the long-term propagation of the Malagasy leaf-tailed gecko and again in 2019 for the sustainability of the Henkel’s leaf-tailed gecko. Riverbanks cares for eight species of leaf-tailed geckos.

Another backstage program coming into view is the Coral Conservation Lab; it will highlight the Zoo’s critical role in the Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project and increase capacity to care for more endangered and threatened corals. Since 2019, Zoo aquarists have been caring for coral colonies that were rescued off the coast of Florida near Key West. Well over half of the corals along the 360-mile stretch have been destroyed by an unknown disease.

“We also are eagerly anticipating the return of a giant Pacific octopus,” said Jennifer Rawlings, aquarium curator at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. “This new addition will have a meticulously designed habitat to replicate the animal’s chilly ocean home.”

The giant Pacific octopus is sure to quickly become a guest favorite, Rawlings adds. “Its unique nature is truly impressive,” said Rawlings. “Studies have demonstrated the species’ ability to use simple tools, identify individuals, navigate mazes, and access both long and short-term memories.”

The opening of the Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center will be a launch point for Riverbanks’ innovative vision to build a Bridge to the Wild. Riverbanks has spent the last several years developing a new master plan that will transform both sides of the Saluda River into the state’s leading conservation resource in addition to elevating the Zoo’s stature as the leader in family fun. Bridge to the Wild will immerse visitors in extraordinary habitats from far corners of the globe, while also highlighting the incredible diversity of flora and fauna found in South Carolina.

Projects in the master plan include transforming the banks of the lower Saluda River into a multifaceted orangutan habitat similar to the primate’s native habitats in Southeast Asia. The lush landscape also would be home to other ape species such as siamangs and gibbons. Another highlight will be the South Carolina Nature Preserve where guests can learn about and experience some of our region’s most endangered and charismatic species including American black bears, bald eagles, and red wolves.

“The Bridge to the Wild endeavor will afford Riverbanks additional opportunities to serve the Midlands and our state as a conservation center, tourist destination, and powerful economic engine,” said Tommy Stringfellow, president and CEO of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. “My hope is that we continue to think big about the treasure Riverbanks is and the impact the Zoo and Garden has on the vibrancy and sustainability of our communities.”