It’s been a long wait, but the last of the Komodo Dragon clutch at Memphis Zoo in Tennessee has finally hatched!
Norberta, the nine-year-old mother, laid a clutch of eggs last May. The first eggs started to hatch on January 2nd, and three weeks later the zoo had sixteen healthy babies.
This is the third time in little less than a year that Memphis Zoo has successfully hatched Komodo Dragons. These babies represent a joint conservation effort between zoos: the mother, Norberta, was loaned to Memphis Zoo in 2007 for breeding purposes. The babies will all go to different zoos. They may get some display time at Memphis Zoo before they move on to their new homes.
Although a mother Komodo Dragon incubates her eggs for around nine months in the wild, the babies are on their own once hatched. "They'll bite, first day out of the egg," said Chris Baker, assistant curator of reptiles for the Memphis Zoo. "She'll eat them if she can catch them. When they hatch out of the egg, they have to be ready to go right then."
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Because of their complex social interactions, Komodo Dragons are difficult to breed. Memphis Zoo staff train the animals to help ensure their compatibility for breeding. The father of this clutch is Memphis Zoo’s sixteen-year-old male, Voltron.
This collaboration between zoos is especially important for conservation. Found only on several islands in Indonesia, there are an estimated 5,000 Komodo Dragons in the wild. They are threatened by natural disasters, human encroachment, poaching, and the limited number of reproducing females. Zoo-bred Komodo Dragons play an important role in repopulating islands after events such as tsunamis or disease.
Although Komodo Dragons are ranked as vulnerable by the IUCN, in person, a Komodo Dragon is anything but vulnerable. Fully grown, they are the world’s largest lizard, reaching up to 3 meters (10 feet) in length and weighing 136 kilograms (300 pounds). Hunting primarily by their sense of smell, Komodo Dragons will eat carrion but are also capable of killing large prey such as deer, pigs and even water buffalo. Coupled with a powerful crushing bite, Komodo Dragon saliva is toxic, containing both venom and deadly bacteria.