This month marks the bittersweet 5th anniversary at The Reptile Zoo. Since 2009 we have had the absolute privilege to share some of the most amazing and exciting creatures with nearly a million visitors. We have reached many landmarks and have many more to come, but will have to do so with the loss of one of the cornerstones of The Reptile Zoo.
If you followed construction of The Reptile Zoo you’ll remember our first groundbreaking project to herald the beginning of our transformation was the largest exhibit we had built to date for the largest snake we had ever seen. Today this snake is known the world around as TWINKIE, the 2014 Official Guinness Record Holding World’s Largest Albino Python in Captivity, but back then she was still nameless. One of the highlighted activities at the Grand Opening of The Reptile Zoo on July 10, 2009 was a contest to name this amazing creature. Over the first several months of The Reptile Zoo as word began to spread entries continued to increase in creativity and number until finally, with over 500 submissions and just in time to appear on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, her destiny was sealed and TWINKIE became the living legend of The Reptile Zoo.
During her 5 years at The Reptile Zoo TWINKIE delighted guests with not only her amazing size, but gentle disposition and beautiful albino pattern. TWINKIE’s fans were varied from the 5 year old youngsters who named her to experts who traveled the globe to see her in the flesh and judge her record breaking size. TWINKIE was an online phenomenon with her appearances in the popular YouTube webisodes series Prehistoric Pets: The Reptile Zoo, even a viral photo started on Tumblr that is still circling the web.
In 2011, a few months after her 8th birthday, we decided TWINKIE was ready for her own fan page which quickly surpassed over 1,000 followers in the first months and now reaching nearly 12,000! It was this internet popularity that lead to her most prestigious recognition. In late 2012 The Reptile Zoo team was contacted by Guinness World Records for their interest in including TWINKIE in the 2014 edition as the official “Largest Albino Python in Captivity”. This was the breakthrough we had always hoped for TWINKIE and after 10 years she would finally achieve it.
It seems all great triumphs are paired with great sadness; TWINKIE’s life was no exception.
Although not obvious to her many guests and fans while on display at The Reptile Zoo TWINKIE she has had little to no appetite eating a small meal once every couple months. For a snake known for her large size, and even criticized for “power feeding”, this was a shock to many during this period. We also noticed she was frequently going into a shedding cycle, which is uncommon for an animal who is not undergoing a large growth spurt. After 2 years of observing this combination, plus her lack of interest in her surroundings when knew it was time to step in. We tried minor changes in late 2012, with no success.
When February came around we knew what just might make all the difference in the world. We have always been hesitant to allow TWINKIE to breed in case there were any complications in childbirth, but over time we noticed a steady change in her personality, food cycle, and activity. We cautiously kept watch of these changes hoping she would be able to overcome them without intervention.
TWINKIE had always gotten plenty of attention from her adoring fans here at The Reptile Zoo, but as she matured it became obvious she desired to breed. Although she reached her sexual maturity many years earlier we had never provided an opportunity to breed. As such a unique specimen our staff was fearful the risks outweighed her natural desire to reproduce. But when we saw the negative impacts this decision caused both emotional and physical we carefully considered the best plan of action and began to find a suitable mate in early February.
Just in time for valentines 2013 TWINKIE was introduced to her first partner a large, although miniatured by her immense size, male Reticulated Python. After their first introduction we knew this was the right decision, because the two immediately started to breed and we hoped all of TWINKIE’s problems were a thing of the past. Like clockwork TWINKIE’s body began the nature egg production process, but again success is met with setbacks. We noticed the first egg in May 2013, but immediately knew there would be complications when only one appeared. These complications were somewhat expected as TWINKIE was already 10 years old and had never had the opportunity to lay her eggs during that time. The goal of this breeding had never been to reproduce, but to improve her health and reset her natural cycle, and in that way we had succeeded. After a short vacation TWINKIE was back to eating on a healthy schedule and ready to meet her fans with her newly crowned title from Guinness in September of 2013.
On her return although we did see an improvement in her shedding schedule which was now normalized her appetite began to diminish. We began the labor intensive strategy of transporting her to a separate feeding enclosure for her weekly meal which did increase her appetite, but was a difficult transition. A year of careful observation and her first male interaction we decided to again try to pair TWINKIE with a male and allow her body to go through it’s natural cycle. This time the breeding did not take and she was placed permanently off display in her feeding enclosure. For a time she again ate well and appeared to take a turn for the better, but just one month after celebrating her 11th birthday TWINKIE passed.
Because of the tragic nature of her loss we did not immediately share of her passing. We couldn’t believe it was true, we didn’t want it to be true, but as truth has a way of doing, the fact remained TWINKIE would no longer be part of The Reptile Zoo team. During this time only 5 people on the planet knew of her passing as we could not yet bear to share of this loss with the public. Even writing this statement seemed unbearable, we were frozen in grief, and honestly 3 months after her passing still are.
During her residency at The Reptile Zoo TWINKIE brought great joy to the thousands who visited in person and the millions who enjoyed following her story online. She was an amazing creature that will not soon be forgotten and will be missed by all. We welcome your stories in remembrance. We have been torn as to what to do in her memory and welcome your suggestions. To learn more about TWINKIE's time at The Reptile Zoo please visit her Facebook Page at www.Facebook.com/WorldsLargestTWINKIE