Today marks a monumental achievement for the Australian Reptile Park, as the three baby Komodo dragons born back in April last year, are celebrating their first birthday. To mark this special day, Head of Reptiles, Keeper Jake Meney who hand-raised them and incidentally also shares a birthday with them, showered the little dragons with extra chin scratches and gifted an extra special birthday treat – kangaroo meat cut into little bite-sized ‘presents’.
To check how their growth has progressed over the past year, they also received a routine health check which consisted of a weigh-in. Since their first health check, both dragons have grown from 112g to 711g, which is a great indicator of excellent health. Weigh-ins and health-checks for reptiles are essential for monitoring any changes and signs of fluctuating health.
Back in April last year, the incredible achievement of Komodo dragon eggs hatching marked an Australian firstas no other zoo, sanctuary or facility had successfully bred Komodo dragons in the country. However, the journey from breeding Daenerys, the Park’s female Komodo dragon to the hatching of the eggs, wasn’t an easy one.
Once the eggs were laid back in November 2021, keepers were required to retrieve the eggs to ensure the ultimate chance of survival. The retrieval process was touch and go as a venomous bite from a Komodo dragon is potentially life-threatening, and this risk is only heightened with a protective female in the midst. Thankfully, all went according to plan with the egg removal due to the keepers having such a close relationship with Daenerys.
With such a long incubation period (7 months), the eggs were then kept under lock and key at the Australian Reptile Park, with keepers keeping a close eye on the eggs to ensure the temperature was at optimal level and that the eggs would remain viable and healthy.
Visitors of the Park can now watch in awe of this inquisitive pair within the Lost World of Reptiles exhibit. To continue to conserve this rare species, one of the three Komodo dragons will be sent to Sydney’s Taronga Zoo as a part of their breeding program. Presently, captive breeding is not needed for the wild population, however, since the conservation status of the Komodo dragon in the wild is considered ‘Vulnerable’, building captive populations are imperative incase a sudden decline is seen in the wild.
Head Reptile Keeper, Jake Meney, said, “It’s been so rewarding to be a part of this journey and see that our hardwork has paid off. We now have three perfect baby dragons and I couldn’t be happier to also share a birthday with them! Since they’ve been born, I’ve developed such a special bond with them. To ensure they continue to become friendly, placid adults just like their parents, I handle both of them on most days so they become conditioned to humans interacting with them and being in their environment.”
“They’ve both grown really quickly over this past year, and I’m happy with how their weight is progressing. In 6 months time, they should reach the 1kg mark, and fingers crossed we will soon commence training to walk in the Main Park area to meet visitors, just like their parents do.” Mr Meney continued.
The Komodo dragon is a living dinosaur and the world’s largest lizard. Komodo dragons can grow up to 3-4 metres in length and weigh over 100kg. Found on the Indonesian island of Komodo, there is a population of about 3,000 to 5,000 Komodo dragons in the wild. The Komodo dragon is a monitor; however, their forked tongue gives them a dragon-like appearance. They are carnivorous predators but will eat just about anything.
The status of the Komodo dragon in the wild is Vulnerable, which is the status level before endangered, on the IUCN red list. Their numbers are declining because of human encroachment, poaching, natural disasters, and a shortage of egg laying females. Breeding programs, like that of the Australian Reptile Park, are of the utmost importance.