Chattanooga Zoo becomes official breeder of Komodo Dragons
The Komodo Dragon is one of the most popular reptiles at the zoo, and keeper Ryan Ditmer says it's also the biggest lizard in the world.
The Komodo Dragons at the Chattanooga Zoo will get a lot more attention starting later this month. A new outdoor exhibit and breeding facility are under construction. The Komodo Dragon is one of the most popular reptiles at the zoo, and keeper Ryan Ditmer says it's also the biggest lizard in the world.
"They get up to ten feet in length and weigh over 200 pounds. They're found on several Indonesian islands, the main one being the island of Komodo," says Ditmer.
They only eat meat and will feast on almost anything they can find, even baby dragons.
"Because of that, baby Komodo Dragons are a lot more agile and they tend to live up in trees," adds Ditmer.
The animal was made pretty famous in the 1990 movie The Freshman with Matthew Broderick and Marlon Brando. Over the years its population has been declining, with only around 5,000 left in the world. The dragons are on the list of "vulnerable species", mainly because they live on islands.
"The potential of something wiping out that species is fairly high," explains Ditmer. "So we have a captive population just in case anything happens to the wild populations, we'd have something to replace them."
Ditmer says breeding the dragons also strengthens their genetic diversity.
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The Chattanooga Zoo was recently chosen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to be an official breeder of Komodo Dragons. The new facility will include a nesting area and pond.
For several years the zoo had only one dragon, Kadal, who is almost eight years old. Then in 2016 came Charlie, the female, who's around the same age. This year they'll be placed together for first time. The new breeding facility will provide a safe place for the hopefully future expectant mother and potential offspring.
Komodo Dragons aren't very social, except during mating season. So zoo visitors have only been able to see Kadal or Charlie in the indoor enclosure one at a time. But this will change because along with the breeding facility will come a new outdoor exhibit. So after you see one dragon you'll be just a few steps away from the other.
"Just being able to display them both at the same time, the public will really enjoy seeing that," says Ditmer.
The lifespan of Komodo Dragons is 20 to 30 years. Ditmer says the new breeding facility and outdoor exhibit will have ponds, like the one in the indoor enclosure. He also says exposure to natural light will help the dragons produce more vitamin D. The new outdoor exhibit is scheduled to open on July 28th.