A NEW reptile house is set to open at Five Sisters Zoo next week – more than a year after the previous facility was destroyed in a blaze.
The £200,000 complex – which will contain more than 40 different species – will be unveiled on Tuesday at the attraction in West Calder.
Last April’s blaze tore through the original reptile enclosure in the early hours of the morning, killing all the animals inside except two crocodiles – which survived by hiding in their pond.
The devastating fire saw the building reduced to a charred shell and prompted thousands of donations to flood in from around the world to help keep the zoo afloat – with £110,000 eventually stumped up by big-hearted animal lovers.
But now a replacement, 5000sq ft enclosure dubbed the “Lost Kingdom” has been constructed next to the site of the old house, featuring a walk-through rainforest set to recreate the feel of the jungle.
Around 35 exhibits have been built into the complex, with guests entering through a cave-like area complete with glass viewing windows offering close-up glimpses of insects, lizards and snakes.
Visitors will also be given the chance to watch keepers preparing food for the animals through a glass panel, with an intercom system allowing staff to interact with their audience.
And after passing through the rainforest – where guests can catch sight of iguanas, exotic parrotlets and a teeming colony of leafcutter ants – visitors are ushered through into the large reptile room, where giant enclosures house crocodiles and alligators.
The Lost Kingdom will officially open its doors on December 30 when Angela Constance MSP will be on hand to cut the ribbon. Plaques commemorating the animals killed in last year’s fire will also be unveiled.
And the two West African dwarf crocodiles who escaped last year’s flames have been given pride of place in the new enclosure – enjoying their very own spacious living area.
Zoo manager Jay Wood, who helped to design the new complex, insisted the reptile house was the best purpose-built facility he had seen in his 17 years working with animals.
He said: “It’s very much a team effort, but I guess the vision was conjured by my and [owner] Brian Curran’s heads.
“It’s very much a facility for both the animals and the guests. The way I would describe it is ‘an experience’.
“It’s designed in such a way that it’s totally and utterly immersive. It really has enhanced the winter experience for our guests. It’s very American – very Disney.”
Mr Curran insisted staff were “really proud and chuffed” with the finished reptile house.
He said: “The crocodiles that survived are a living miracle. They have probably the best enclosure of the lot – they are an emblem of the old zoo.
“The public support has been fantastic. I wanted to create something special because of the support that we got.”
SuBo backed appeal to rebuild zoo
SUPERSTAR Susan Boyle backed the public appeal to help rebuild the fire-hit Five Sisters Zoo.
During an unannounced visit earlier this year, the West Lothian singing sensation pledged to handover a “substantial donation” to the fund to repair the West Calder attraction.
More than 48 different species perished in the flames as 11 fire engines battled to bring the ferocious blaze under control in April last year.
The new reptile house isn’t the first time public donations have come to the zoo’s rescue.
Three years ago, owners ran a successful appeal to rehome three ex-circus brown bears, which are now settled in a two-acre woodland sanctuary.