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The Reptile Zoo in Fountain Valley adds scale(s)

The Reptile Zoo in Fountain Valley adds scale(s)
Zoo Manager Laura Brewer feed alligators raw chicken while visitors, including Oliver Shipman, 3, of Riverside, watch. This was during the opening of a new wing of the Reptile Zoo in Fountain Valley on July 8. (Photo by Mike Mullen)

Jenn Diaz was never much of a reptile person. But despite that, the Huntington Beach resident and her family have become regulars at the Reptile Zoo over the seven years they’ve lived nearby.

“Admittedly, I’m not what you would call a ‘snake person,’ but [the owner] Jay’s passion for reptiles is contagious,” she said. “[Her 11-year-old son] William now wants a ball python.”

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Located in Fountain Valley, the Reptile Zoo, which recently celebrated its ninth anniversary, is part of the Prehistoric Inc. company founded by Jay Brewer that also includes the reptile retail store Prehistoric Pets and Jurassic Parties, which offers hands-on educational experiences at birthday parties.

Along with its anniversary, the Reptile Zoo recently celebrated a massive renovation that began in November 2017 and cost about $120,000. The expansion added 3,000 square feet.

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But along with an extensive permitting process and a city-mandated 25-day closure of the zoo, the renovation wasn’t without challenges.

“We went through a lot, but it’s so worth it now,” said Laura Brewer, chief operations officer and Jay’s daughter. “It’s nice to know that it worked itself out perfectly.”

The improvements included a 1-ton python exhibit housing 10 giant pythons in a cage larger than most New York apartments, according to Laura.

The new Casa de Tortuga exhibit is home to several 200-plus-pound rescued sulcata tortoises, which can be hand-fed veggies by guests. There’s also a new Life Cycle Learning Zone, where guests can see baby pythons and their mothers. And then there’s the turtle pond with a tropical “living wall.” Guests can feed the turtles special worms available at the zoo.

The renovation added a wing that included about 50 new enclosures. However, Laura said, the goal of the expansion was not to greatly increase the number of species on display but rather to provide larger and more natural environments to the existing reptiles.

Because of its zoo status, the Reptile Zoo is approved to exhibit some reptiles that are illegal to sell, including alligators and snapping turtles. And though the mission wasn’t to add species, guests can expect to see a few additional animals that have been approved for exhibit by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Those include the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the canebrake “timber” rattlesnake and the Gaboon viper.

“It’s really about making it a better place,” Laura said of the renovation.

Though her family enjoyed the Reptile Zoo before the expansion, the renovated facility gives them the chance to see more species, Diaz said.

“It also allows for larger tanks for all of the animals,” she said. “They also have a new breeding/baby room where you can see the snake eggs incubating.”

For Jay, the renovation was really a 23-year process, because he first dreamed of it all those years ago when he changed his company’s name from Pet Country to Prehistoric Pets and moved to the current location.

“It’s just a completion of a lifelong dream, you can say,” Jay said.

Jessica Peralta is a TimesOC contributor.

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