Accompanied by two of our Zoo Keepers and the Australian Fauna Supervisor, Arthur Ferguson, I cautiously followed as they led me through the exhibit for Raja our young male Komodo Dragon. Having read not long ago that a komodo’s serrated bite can release a venom that stops blood clotting, I’ll admit I was a teeny bit nervous.
Arthur and I waited while the keepers tried to lure Raja into a good spot outside. The first thing I noticed was the incredibly high and humid heat of the room, lucky lizard gets a permanent sauna of his own! Arthur informs me that the Komodo Dragon favours tropical weather, so it was necessary for them to replicate the right conditions for Raja.
On the other side of the door I could hear keeper, Matt Ricci, calling out “Come on Raja…good boy, yes you are a good boy.” This made me feel a lot less nervous.
Once Raja was settled, Arthur and I entered the outdoor area keeping a good distance away. Despite all the safety precautions, I am assured that Raja is very gentle and more curious than aggressive.
Matt strokes Raja and then reaches down and starts patting Raja on his head and back, before telling him its bath time. Then he takes a wet sponge and starts to give our young komodo what looks like a very pampering spa treatment…Komodo Dragon Style.
Despite being a formidable predator and the world’s largest lizard, it is clear that Raja is very much enjoying his treatment. But it’s not just about pampering the dragon. The interaction and training session helps build a rapport with Raja, so that when he grows to his full adult size our staff can safely work in with him to do any health checks and ensure he is in tip top condition. It also helps ensure we have a good natured and motivated lizard. Komodo Dragons are also amongst the ‘most actively intelligent’ reptiles on the planet so the interaction also ensures he’s mentally and physically stimulated.
As I prepare to leave the dragon’s den, Raja moves into the sun and stretches one very large clawed arm on a rock before Matt resumes. This time he brushes along Raja’s scaly skin, from head to tail and then a bucket of water is gently poured over him before Matt strokes and pats him, just like a dog. Closing his eyes and looking content, Raja makes a low grumbling noise that I’m told is his happy sound…but it was pretty easy to guess that.
Melissa Leo – Perth Zoo Media and Communications Officer