On Saint John’s Day 2022, an exceptional event occurred at the facilities of Bioparc Fuengirola, a wildlife park located in this Malaga municipality. That day, Ora and Reo, two Komodo dragons, copulated. She is a 13-year-old female and he is a 19-year-old male. With no previous offspring, the team of professionals in this space agreed that if any offspring were born from that union, the first one would bear a name that honors that day. Earlier this month they kept their promise. A small reptile was hatching from its egg, alive and well. They baptized him as Juanito. Days later, Fénix, Embum, Drakaris and Saya were born. They represent a milestone because it is the first time that the reproduction of this species has been achieved in Spain in the last ten years. Only the Barcelona zoo had achieved it before, in 2012. Listed as endangered, there are barely 1,300 specimens in the wild.
From that June 24, a clutch of 12 eggs came out. Five were saved, since the other seven showed color and roughness that made them non-viable. “The species has two oviducts and sometimes one is fertilized and the other is not. You can clearly see those that are not”, says Milagros Robledo, head of the Herpetology team at Bioparc Fuengirola. Those that did were transferred to two incubators —to increase the chances of hatching— where they were kept at a temperature of between 29.5 and 30.5 degrees. Other circumstances that a nest would have in nature were also reproduced, such as humidity between 70% and 90%. Earlier this month, sooner than expected, Juanito reared his head and in the following two weeks the others were born. They were all between 30 and 45 centimeters in size and the smallest ones required human help, since they had become attached to the yolk of the egg.
Today they have a deep look, as if they were aware of the size they could reach in the future, but for now these hatchlings still move somewhat clumsily. They will never know their parents any more than they would have done in freedom. “As in most reptiles, there is no affection here. The young are prey, so this species usually spends its first year of life in a tree, feeding. They rarely go down,” says Robledo. Now they reside in individualized terrariums in which they constantly display their unique forked tongue, with which they capture scents and flavors. Their prey are, for now, worms, insects or baby mice.
Their names were also decided before their birth. They named Phoenix because his egg broke during incubation, but even so, he managed to get ahead. They called Embum that way because in Indonesian it means “morning dew” and Saya is a tribute to a female Komodo dragon that lived in Fuengirola years ago until her natural death. Drakaris, of course, “comes from the geek part that we have in the team,” says Robledo, a follower of Game of Thrones. They all represent “a hopeful future for this endangered species,” explains Robledo, who points out that it is not easy to get two specimens to mate because the female only goes into heat one week a year and, the rest of the time, avoids the male.
In Fuengirola, in fact, they live apart because if they met they would fight. And given her sheer size—Reo is 7-foot-2 and weighs 150 pounds, while Ora is around two feet and 115 pounds—the consequences could be fatal. With dark skin dotted with light and yellowish spots, Juanito and his brothers are much smaller at the moment. They will grow up in stride, but these animals can easily exceed the wingspan of their parents and reach eight feet in length.
Bioparc Fuengirola is one of the 30 zoos that are part of the European Endangered Species Program (EEP) of this great monitor lizard, coordinated by the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA). His recommendation is that five eggs be incubated with each clutch, just what has happened on the Costa del Sol. “This decision guarantees the genetic variability of Komodo dragons and strengthens these reptiles in the event that, in the future, they it is necessary to reintroduce them into their habitat”, explains Jesús Recuero, technical director, veterinarian and curator of the Fuengirola center. At the moment, it is most probable that these five specimens become part of the breeding program to strengthen the genetics of the species in captivity and do not know freedom.
The Komodo dragon is an endangered species of which there are barely 1,500 specimens left worldwide, of which 220 are in conservation centers belonging to EAZA. In the wild they are located on the island of Flores, Komodo, Rinca, Padar, Nusa Kode and Gili Motang, in Indonesia. As explained by Bioparc, in the last 15 years the dragon population has been reduced by 25% due to the burning of the forests where they live and the havoc caused by poaching. Added to all this “is the enormous accumulation of waste carried by ocean currents and ending up on the islands where these primitive and great monitor lizards live”, they conclude from the center of Fuengirola.
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