There’s a real life dragon living at Perth Zoo and this week he celebrated his 11th birthday.
In honour of the milestone, the Komodo Dragon keepers organised special enrichment birthday boxes with some tasty treats hidden inside .
As the 50kg reptile, named Raja, was tucked safely in his nightquarters, keeper Jenna Peddie went into his exhibit to lay out his presents.
And while the birthday boxes were a hit, the real enjoyment for Raja was in all the strange new scents he found in his habitat.
“Komodo Dragons are quite intelligent and are very eager to explore anything new in the environment,” Jenna said.
“They have an excellent sense of smell, so before he even tucked into his birthday enrichment, he carefully traced all of the footsteps I left behind, following my exact journey in his exhibit.”
While they don’t breathe fire, a Komodo Dragon is still quite the predator.
Komodo Dragon’s have a mouth full of 60 serrated teeth. The sharp chompers are used to latch onto prey, before a powerful venom is released to induce shock and stop the prey’s blood from clotting.
On the rare occasion the prey is able to escape after a bite, a Komodo can use it’s excellent sense of smell to track the meat for up to three days and four kilometres in distance.
To put that into perspective, Raja has the ability to smell meat from his home at Perth Zoo all the way up to King’s Park!
That’s why you might see his forked-tongue flicking around as he explores his exhibit – it’s a Komodo Dragon’s way of investigating the world around him through smells.
Impressive, right? But that’s not where the wow-factor for this species ends. In fact, the more you learn about the Komodo Dragon, the more it seems the animal was made up in a science fiction novel.
For example, female komodos do not need a male to reproduce – they can make a baby dragon all on their own! This is done through a process called parthenogenesis.
There really is no other animal like the Komodo Dragon, and that’s why it’s important we protect them for generations to come.
“Raja is such an incredible animal to work with, and he does a great job as an ambassador for his cousins in the wild,” Jenna said.
‘Most people are in absolute awe when they see him, so he helps to inspire people to care about the species.”
In the wild, Komodo Dragons are threatened by the illegal pet trade, and their food sources are dwindling as humans poach their prey and encroach on their habitat.
Perth Zoo supports the Komodo Survival Program, a program at Komodo National Park that tracks, monitors and researches the dragons in their natural habitat.
In the wild, Komodos are only found on a few Indonesian islands and it’s estimated there are only between 2500 – 5000 remaining.
Thanks to community donations, together we have recently funded the training of 14 new Komodo National Park staff who are now able to assess the presence and absence of Komodo Dragons at 11 sites.
This valuable data has revealed some good news! Recent tracking activity has found the populations on some smaller islands is increasing.
Learn more about the Komodo Dragon Project.