An Indonesian zoo has taken in dozens of new baby Komodo dragons hatched in captivity in recent months as part of a captive breeding program, its director said Tuesday, giving hope for efforts to conserve the endangered species.
The world’s largest living lizards are found only in Indonesia’s World Heritage-listed Komodo National Park and neighboring Flores, and it is estimated that only 3,458 adult and juvenile species remain in the wild.
The fearsome reptiles, which can grow up to three meters long and weigh up to 90 kilograms, are threatened by human activities and climate change that is destroying their habitat.
But a breeding program in Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, is trying to change that by successfully breeding 29 dragons in incubators between February and March.
“We have habitats that reflect the Komodo’s natural habitat, including its humidity and temperature,” zoo director Chairul Anwar told AFP.
The newborns were hatched from two female Komodo dragons after their eggs were placed in incubators to prevent them from being eaten by their mothers or other Komodo dragons.
Female Komodos can fertilize an egg without the need for a male dragon.
The zoo started the program in the 1990s as part of efforts to conserve the species in a city more than 700 kilometers (434 miles) from the dragon’s natural habitat.
After this year’s birth surge, Surabaya Zoo is now home to 134 Komodo dragons, the largest population outside of their habitat in the archipelago east of Bali, Anwar said.
In a report last year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature warned that the endangered species’ habitat is expected to shrink by 30 percent over the next 45 years due to rising sea levels.
Anwar said the dragons will not be released back into the wild on Komodo or Flores until conditions improve.
“Komodo Island is still working to rejuvenate the forests” that support the dragon’s declining natural prey like deer, he said.
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