When visiting the Zoo, 5-year-old Noah was expecting to see animals he knows are big like elephants and giraffes; he was not expecting a snake to be in the same large category. “Whoa! He’s huge!” Noah says to his dad. Noah quickly learned, he is actually a she. Olive, the green anaconda, is 15 feet long and 120 pounds, making her the largest snake that has lived in the Aquatic & Reptile Center. Despite her impressive size, Olive is small for her species. Green anacondas can grow to 30 feet and 500 pounds!

On this day, Olive was up against the glass in her habitat, so Noah could truly see her length and girth. Part of her body was wrapped around one of the potted plants inside, while the rest of her was sprawled out close to the glass. With a snake that large, and potentially dangerous, there is a new protocol for how zookeepers go into her habitat.

Green Anaconda Olive

“We’ve never had anything bigger than 12 feet here, so we had to expand our constrictor policy,” says Curator Shawn Miller. When zookeepers need to go into her habitat, once or twice a week, it is now a three-person job instead of the former protocol that called for two. Now two zookeepers go inside the habitat, and a third is a spotter and stands on the public side of the glass to watch Olive’s moves and relay them to the other keepers. “We have worked in there with three people as well. It’s just if we have to get out quickly with three people you’re stumbling over each other,” explains Miller.

Another layer of training for constrictors revolves around confidence. “The big thing with constrictors like that is you can’t hesitate. As soon as you go in to grab and you balk, that’s when you’re going to get bit,” says Miller. Zookeepers have experience with this from working with the red-tailed boas and the former anaconda, Mo. Neck grabs are generally needed during health checks.

So far Olive has proven to be a great animal ambassador. Miller says people love seeing Olive and seem less afraid of her compared to some of the smaller snakes. “If someone doesn’t like snakes, you have a better chance of teaching them about a bigger snake because it is behind the glass and can’t slither behind something and disappear.” Miller is passionate about people learning about reptiles, and Olive seems to be opening a lot of eyes.