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Q&A With National Geographic Museum’s ‘Croc Keeper’

Baby alligators at National Geographic Museum. Photo by Mark Thiessen
Baby alligators at National Geographic Museum. (Photo by Mark Thiessen)

Last week, National Geographic Museum at National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, D.C. opened its family-friendly, interactive exhibit, “Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World.” “Crocs” explores a family of species that has flourished for more than 200 million years, and showcases the diversity of forms the group has taken during that time period.

Visitors can interpret croc calls, create 3-D animations, and test their strength against a croc on a modified force gauge. The exhibit also features dioramas with both models and living crocodiles. Yes, live crocodiles just a few blocks from the White House.

Thankfully, they didn’t come alone.

Jake Woods, a zookeeper from Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland (the accredited zoo in Pennsylvania where the exhibit was created), has come to D.C. and is taking care of National Geographic HQ’s new residents. He recently answered some questions about his wild life and “Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World.”

Jake Woods with a display crocodile in the National Geographic Museum. Photo by Shakita Tucker
Jake Woods with a display crocodile in the National Geographic Museum. (Photo by Shakita Tucker)

What does your job with the current “Crocs” exhibit entail?

A lot of feeding and maintenance of the animals—they’re crocodilians, so they do have a nice, healthy appetite. Also keeping things clean—there’s a lot of water, so making sure the pumps and filters and stuff like that are all working as they should.

It’s a very highly interactive exhibit so there are lots of buttons, lots of TV screens, lots of things like that. I need to make sure all of that stuff is working as well.

How did you get this gig?

I was a biology major in college but I kind of geared it more toward ecology and animal studies. And then out of college I got an internship with a zoo in Kentucky that’s an all-reptile zoo. Then, right after there, I hooked up with Clyde Peeling’s, and I will have been there three years in April.

In all of your years dealing with reptiles have you ever had any close calls?

I work with big guys like our Komodo dragons and a couple really big alligators. I work with venomous stuff. Things like that. But, we’ve all been trained very well. We’re trained to handle any situation. I still have all my fingers and things like that. So, no close calls [laughs].

What can you tell us about the exhibit? What kind of crocs are featured?

We have four live species with the exhibit. Right when you walk in, the first ones you’re going to see are these slender-snouted crocodiles from Western Africa. And then we have six baby alligators. The baby alligators are only about five months old right now. They’re pretty cute and adorable when you watch them swim around. We also have one of the most endangered croc species: the Siamese crocodile.

The biggest animal that we have here is a six-foot-long African dwarf crocodile, also from Western Africa. He’s a pretty good-looking guy, a pretty hefty guy, but he’s not going to get any bigger because these crocs only get to be five or six feet long.

He’s 36 so he’s getting up there, but he’ll live another 20 or 30 years easily.

I’m sorry, how old?

He’s 36 right now, but he can be in his 50s or 60s, no problem.

Wow.

They live a long time.

How did you get them to D.C.?

They were brought from our zoo. We got special shipping containers for them. We loaded them up, and then we drove them down here, and then got them into their exhibit as soon as we could.

Is there anything else you would like to add about the exhibit?  

Small kids can come in and see the animals moving around. There’s lots of things you can touch or play with. People that are older—20s, 30s, 40s, on up—there are interactive things to learn from. The whole family can enjoy it.

crocs museum
With live crocodiles, fossils, and interactive displays, “Crocs” puts museum going on a whole new … scale. (Image courtesy National Geographic Museum)

[This interview has been condensed and edited.]

Catch “Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World” at National Geographic Museum between now and May 9, 2016.