Riverbanks Zoo and Garden Opens the New Darnall W and Susan F Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center

For Immediate Release: March 2, 2023

20,000-square-foot animal care facility features rare and endangered species, immersive floor-to-ceiling habitats and brings conservation to the forefront of the guest experience

Columbia, SC — Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, a world-class recreational and educational attraction in Columbia, SC, officially opened its new state-of-the-art Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, March 2. The 20,000-square-foot attraction and educational facility transports guests on an immersive journey from land to sea — shining a light on conservation work at Riverbanks and much more. 

Event speakers included South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, Susan F. Boyd of The Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Foundation, and Tommy Stringfellow, president and CEO of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden.

“Thanks to the incredible generosity of The Boyd Foundation, we are thrilled to open the reimagined Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center,” says Stringfellow. “This one-of-kind educational facility provides our guests with a truly immersive experience while also showcasing our critical role in wildlife conservation. We are excited to bring conservation directly to our visitors and allow them to see the work that previously took place behind the scenes at Riverbanks.” 

The re-imagined Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center takes guests on an engaging land to sea journey with captivating views of some of the world’s most precious and endangered wildlife. More than 11,000 animals representing over 300 different species—17 of which are endangered—reside in the conservation center, including reptiles, amphibians, fishes, invertebrates and birds. Additionally, two new conservation labs allow visitors the opportunity to witness Riverbanks’ important conservation work with corals and leaf-tailed geckos. 

New immersive and educational features 

Temperate and Tropical Forests

  • Guests entering the new Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center are immediately immersed in temperate and tropical rainforests with floor-to-ceiling views of captivating residents.
  • A few guest favorites in this area include an alligator snapping turtle, cottonmouth, bushmaster, blue poison dart frogs and green anaconda. 

Desert Biome

  • Guests are then transported to the new desert biome — highlighting arid habitats of the Western hemisphere, especially in the desert southwest. 
  • This immersive habitat features a variety of desert dwellers, including tortoises, rattlesnakes, and Gila monsters, as well as thick-billed parrots and burrowing owls. 

Land to Sea Habitats 

  • Moving past the desert, guests will get up close views of animals of all shapes and sizes, from a king cobra to tiny Panamanian golden frogs, as well as a rare view into the Nursery with incubating reptile eggs and new hatchlings.  
  • A new mangrove habitat helps transition guests from land to sea, featuring sea urchins, chocolate chip sea stars, seahorses, and upside-down jellyfish.


  • As guests walk into the Aquarium, they will be immersed in an ocean habitat with the sights and sounds of the sea.
  • Visitors also will be mesmerized by a giant wall of moon jellies.
  • In the coming weeks, guests will have the opportunity to meet a giant Pacific octopus named Susan, in honor of Mrs. Boyd’s favorite animal.

Conservation Labs

  • New and innovative conservation labs showcase conservation work that was previously only experienced during behind-the-scenes tours. 
  • Guests can now have an up-close view of the critical role Riverbanks plays in protecting coral reefs. The coral lab showcases colonies of corals that were rescued off the coast of Florida near Key West in partnership with the federal government, local governments and many other zoological institutions.
  • In the terrestrial lab, guests can view endangered reptiles and amphibians. The lab showcases Riverbanks’ work supporting populations of geckos from around the globe and collaborative projects protecting South Carolina’s most endangered wildlife.

“It’s important to be in the forefront and a leader in conservation to ensure that our world’s wildlife and their important habitats are preserved for generations,” says Susan Boyd. “And that’s exactly what the new Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center at Riverbanks is doing for our local communities, its visitors and the greater wildlife community. It is the responsibility of everyone to make small changes in their lives that will ultimately make a huge impact.”

This much-anticipated project was made possible by The Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Foundation. Additional project partners include GLMV Architecture, Boyer Construction, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden Senior Leaders and Staff, Riverbanks Park Commission and the Riverbanks Society.

The Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center is open during normal Riverbanks hours and is included with general admission and membership. Visit Riverbanks.org to learn more and plan your visit. 

Building a Bridge to the Wild

The opening of the Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center is the second major project in Phase One of Riverbanks’ innovative vision to build a Bridge to the Wild. This multi-year, phased plan will fundamentally change the way guests experience wildlife and connect with nature at Riverbanks.

“The conservation center is part of a strategic long-term vision for Riverbanks Zoo and Garden,” says Lochlan Wooten, chief operating officer at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. “Once complete, Bridge to the Wild will transform both sides of the Saluda River into the state’s leading conservation resource and will continue to elevate our stature as the leader in family fun.”

Phase One of Bridge to the Wild includes the Aquarium & Reptile Conservation Center, as well as the white rhino habitat (which opened in 2020), significant infrastructure improvements and two exciting projects that will be announced later in 2023. The planned Phase Two of Bridge to the Wild will include a transformational expansion of Riverbanks’ footprint that will optimize the guest experience, increase opportunities for guest engagement, better connect guests to conservation and highlight the beauty of the Saluda River. This expansion includes an orangutan habitat, South Carolina nature preserve, enhanced lion and tiger habitats, and a one-of-a-kind multipurpose facility on the banks of the Saluda River. 

[Press kit here]

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About Riverbanks Zoo and Garden: Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is home to more than 3,000 magnificent and fascinating animals and one of America’s best public gardens. The Zoo opened on April 25, 1974, and for nearly five decades, has connected individuals, families and school children with the natural world. Riverbanks is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is recognized as a global leader in animal care and welfare, education, recreation, science and wildlife conservation. It is the mission of the Zoo and Garden to create meaningful connections and inspire actions that will have a lasting impact on conservation. 

About The Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Foundation: The Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Foundation promotes and supports projects of specific interest to the Boyd Family, such as education, beautification, and the creation of outdoor recreational opportunities, as well as enhancements to benefit the quality of life for citizens of Columbia and the Midlands. The Boyd Foundation has made possible a variety of projects in the Midlands, including Boyd Plaza at Columbia Museum of Art, renovations of facilities at Riverbanks Zoo, Boyd Island on the Saluda Riverwalk, South Carolina Waterfowl Association facilities, and many projects and facilities at Historic Columbia.