Fort Worth zoo exhibit opens to delight of kids, grown-ups

FORT WORTH -- Tyler Evans had the good fortune of being one of the first youngsters through the Fort Worth Zoo's newest exhibit, the Museum of Living Art.

Tyler -- "I'm 7 and a half" -- loved the 15-foot saltwater crocodile and marveled at the 12-foot king cobra, both new creatures unveiled as the doors of the zoo's $19 million herpetarium swung open Thursday.

"I like the dangerous animals," he said, surely speaking for children all over the land.

The exhibit, which will open to the general public Saturday, received its official blessing from zoo and city leaders Thursday morning.

The Gideon Toal-designed building, with an undulating roof made to look like scales and an exterior of West Texas-quarried stone, features 5,000 animals: snakes, lizards, frogs and turtles, plus fish, mammals and birds.

"Doesn't it look like it's been here awhile?" asked Mayor Mike Moncrief, who was shadowed for much of his speech by a curious gharial floating in the water. "It's already part of the fabric of this outstanding zoo."

The exhibit marks the 15th major addition to the zoo since the Fort Worth Zoological Association assumed day-to-day management in 1991.

But within minutes of the ribbon-cutting, families invited for "home-school day" were already parading through the building.

Tommy Evans, Tyler's father, said the building is immeasurably better than the old herpetarium, which was cramped and "smelled funny."

"I was sad to see them tear down the old aquarium, but this exhibit is first-class," he said. "You can see that the animals probably like it a lot more too because they have so much more room."

Ramona Bass, who leads the zoo's board and serves as its greatest champion, walked around to survey moms and children about their thoughts.

"As people come through here, it is exactly the way I dreamed it would be," she said.

CHRIS VAUGHN, 817-390-7547