Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve
Over the course of his more than 25-year career as an animal manager and trainer, Josh Ruffell has worked with a wide variety of species in the United States, Japan, Australia and around the globe. Currently a freelance animal trainer for the movie and television industry, Josh Ruffell’s experience also includes serving as a wildlife consultant on multiple seasons of the television series Survivor. The series’ 17th season was filmed in the Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve in the central African country of Gabon.
Located in Gabon’s northwest region, on the Atlantic coast, the Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve encompasses 500,000 hectares. The biodiverse area contains a range of landscapes, including lush green savannas and dense jungle. Dunes in the reserve reach as high as 300 meters, and erosion has carved out natural amphitheaters of red and white clay.
A protected area, the Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve is also home to diverse species of animals. During the shooting of Survivor: Gabon, contestants and crew encountered elephants, a leopard, and a 12-foot python, though none of these encounters resulted in any harm to those involved in the production or to the animals. Antelopes, hippopotami, lowland gorillas, panthers, colobus monkeys, and red river hogs also live there, and turtles and various birds lay their eggs on the reserves white-sand beaches.
In 2016, Josh Ruffell returned to the movie and television industry as a freelance animal trainer with companies including Jules Sylvesters Reptile Rentals, Inc., a leading provider of animal talent for television and film productions. A seasoned professional, Josh Ruffell is a reptile expert and has extensive experience handling a multitude of venomous and non-venomous snakes.
Although reptile handlers at the zoo pick up snakes with ease, it can be a daunting task for those who have never handled a snake before. Here are three tips to consider when handling a pet snake.
1. Wash your hands. Good hygiene is extremely important when handling any pet, and snakes are no different. Snakes are known to have acute sensory organs. In addition to eliminating prey scents from your hands, cleaning your hands decreases the likelihood of introducing germs, bacteria, or parasites to the snake.
2. Provide broad support. When picking up a snake, it is important to support as much of its body as possible, concentrating primarily on the middle of the body. Avoid touching or restraining the movement of its head, which may signal that you are a predator. Similarly, avoid picking it up by the tail, which may cause it to thrash around and injure itself.
3. Act with confidence. Even if you are uncomfortable, you should handle your snake with smooth, decisive movements. Jerky or hesitant motions can cause the snake to become restless.
Josh Ruffell graduated the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College in 1999. Since then, Josh Ruffell has served as an exotic animal trainer and manager in the film and television industry and as a curator and assistant curator at Australia Zoo, where his responsibilities included overseeing reptiles.
Australia Zoo houses and displays a number of reptile species, such as:
– Boas and pythons: The zoo is home to a variety of nonvenomous snakes, including the reticulated python, the boa constrictor, and the black-headed python. These animals constrict their prey and eat primarily birds and mammals although the black-headed python is also known for eating other reptiles. One of the zoo’s residents, the reticulated python, can grow to more than 26 feet in length.
– Crocodiles and alligators. Visitors to the zoo can observe two species of crocodile — freshwater and saltwater — and also American alligators. Continuing the efforts of television personality and crocodile expert Steve Irwin, the zoo also engages in crocodile conservation. Annual research is carried out at the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Queensland in partnership with the University of Queensland.
– Turtles and tortoises: The zoo celebrates an ancient reptile that is known from fossil discoveries to have lived 200 million years ago. The zoo is home to four Aldabran tortoises, which when fully grown can weigh as much as 650 pounds. Visitors can also see an alligator snapping turtle and various other freshwater turtle species.