Dragons are real and this summer, a pair made the Edmonton Valley Zoo their temporary home. Though they were not fire-breathing beasts circling in the sky, Komodo dragon sisters, Saphira and Ophelia, were just as mysterious and captivating as the mythical monsters of film and fable.

Discovering dragons at the zoo was a very big deal! This species is managed through SSP (Species Survival Plan), the international breeding program. The sisters, originally from a zoo in the United Kingdom, are on their way to another zoo in the United States where they will be coupled with suitable males for breeding. We were extremely fortunate the Komodos stopped off in Edmonton, giving zoo visitors a rare opportunity to observe this ancient species and learn more about their behaviours. The dragons were here until October while cross-border shipping permits were organized.

Komodo dragons are the largest living species of lizard on Earth. The largest verified specimen reached a length of 10.3 ft (3.13 m) and weighed 366 lbs (166 kg), but wild dragons are usually about 154 lbs and females are typically smaller.

Wild Komodo dragons are found only on Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands and live up to 30 years.
These carnivores are fierce hunters and can bring down prey as large as a water buffalo. While they tend to overpower smaller prey, such as deer and other small mammals, they bring down larger animals with a single bite. Their venom helps stop the prey’s blood from clotting. With more than 50 strains of bacteria in the saliva, some of which are highly septic, the prey often dies within 24 hours.

Once bitten, the poisoned animal develops an infection. The dragon calmly follows the doomed animal, flicking its forked tongue to smell the air like a snake does, until it dies or is incapacitated. The lizard will then feast, with other dragons joining, eating up to 80 percent of their body weight at one meal.
While Komodo dragons seem fierce and frightening, they are also magnificent and majestic. Upon arriving at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, Saphira and Ophelia slowly made their way out of their shipping crates, flicking their tongues and raising themselves high on their legs to scope their new home. The Komodo habitat was constructed specifically to meet their exact needs with high temperature and humidity, and an ultraviolet light source. The duo approved of their new digs, quickly finding a spot where they could rest and survey their surroundings.

As this was our first experience with Komodo dragons at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, our keepers had a great deal to learn about their care and how to safely work with them. Being venomous and potentially dangerous, protocols on husbandry techniques were created to ensure both the keepers and animals were safe. For example, the zookeepers wear rubber boots, long pants and hold push boards – large, rigid plastic sheets used to herd hogs – to prevent the dragons from biting and whipping their tails.

It only took a few days for both sides to feel comfortable around each other but the dragons have an ever watchful eye that suggests they are plotting some hi-jinks or perhaps, studying the keepers. Whatever the case, this past summer, the bond between human and dragon grew at the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

Did you know you can adopt a reptile at the Edmonton Valley Zoo?