The Australian Reptile Park are celebrating a historic achievement this week, with Daenerys the Park’s female Komodo dragon laying 15 eggs – an Australian first. Komodo dragons are the largest living lizard species and virtually modern-day dinosaurs. A venomous bite from a Komodo dragon is potentially life-threatening with keepers risked life and limb to retrieve the eggs.

Keepers were required to retrieve the eggs to ensure the ultimate chance of survival. With such a long incubation period (8 months), the eggs are under lock and key at the Australian Reptile Park and keepers must keep a close eye on the eggs at all times and ensuring the temperature is at optimal level and constant checks on the eggs for their viability and health.

Thankfully, all went according to plan with the egg removal due to the keepers having such a close relationship with Daenerys. Reptile Park staff were able to lure her from the nest box with some food and secure her in another area of the enclosure. Whilst Daenerys was secured, the reptile keepers had the delicate task of removing the fragile eggs from the nest site and transporting them to the artificial incubator.

The egg retrieval was almost completed without a hitch, however during the removal of the last few eggs, the chamber started collapsing and keepers had to scramble to protect the precious eggs. Thankfully, the quick acting keepers were able to protect all eggs and removal the final fragile eggs without and damage coming to them. Once the eggs were retrieved, Daenerys returned to the nesting area and continued digging unaware of the eggs being removed.

This incredible moment marks an Australian first as no other zoo, sanctuary or facility have successfully bred Komodo dragons in the country and led through to the egg laying stage. This means positive signs for the breeding program and an important step for the species as they are considered under threat in the wild.

Head of Reptiles, Daniel Rumsey said, “A lot of work goes into the breeding of Komodo dragons. These are two animals that could potentially kill each other and do some serious damage to us keepers in the process. It was a bit touch and go during the initial introductions, however our female became receptive and the two mated successfully.”

My Rumsey continued, “The next stage is ensuring the successful laying of the eggs. Komodo dragons can become what is called ‘egg-bound’ in which the eggs get trapped inside them if you don’t provide optimal laying conditions. This includes us building a specially designed nest box that has deep enough sand and ensuring the temperature is optimal.”

After the egg laying and removal there is still several steps to ensure the heath of both Daenerys and the eggs. This included a vet visit with an ultrasound to ensure Daenerys had passed all the eggs as well as daily temperature checks on the eggs and weekly egg weighing. Another part of the checking in process is “candling”, a process in which keepers hold a torch behind the egg to see the formation of the baby dragon inside the egg. After two candling sessions, the eggs are progressing perfectly.

For now, it is a waiting game as the staff eagerly wait 8 months for the eggs to hatch. Staff are currently beaming with excitement and waiting in anticipation for the day they see the eggs and then tiny little Komodo dragon hatchlings.

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 stable 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.

Incidentally, the clutch was laid only one day after the species was reclassified from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List, highlighting the significance of the eggs for the future of the species. Their numbers are declining because of climate change, 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.