This story was updated at 3:49 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5, with more information.
The Chattanooga Zoo has announced its first successful hatching of Komodo dragons.
The Aug. 4 hatching of the three babies marks a step in the zoo's efforts to conserve Komodo dragons in the wild. The offspring and first-time mother Charlie are doing well, according to a news release.
"After years of caring for these animals, working to provide them the appropriate space to express their naturalistic behaviors, partnering with the [Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan], and doing everything we can to better understand this species, it is so rewarding for our entire staff to experience and witness the miracle of these hatchlings," said Dardenelle Long, zoo CEO and president.
The hatching comes a year after the zoo opened the Komodo Dragon Breeding Facility, allowing for two adult Komodo dragons — 8-year-old Charlie and 8-year-old Kadal — to be introduced and placed in the same habitat to breed. Several introductions and observations later, Charlie laid a clutch of eggs inside the breeding facility in December 2018. Three of the eggs later hatched after they were placed in an incubator.
Because parthenogenesis, a form of reproduction of offspring from an ovum without fertilization by a male, can occur in female Komodo dragons, the zoo's animal care teams are working to determine whether the babies are the product of successful breeding or if parthenogenesis did actually occur. DNA testing will show how the dragons reproduced. While parthenogenesis is rare, it has been reported in other zoological institutions, the release states.
The three Komodo dragon hatchlings won't be placed in the public viewable habitat until they have reached the appropriate age and size. At that point, they will be placed in the Forest of the World exhibit building.
Zoo guests can get a sneak peak at them, though, this Saturday during Wizards, Witches, and Fantastic Beasts Day. Visitors can see the hatchlings and learn about them from the zoo's herpetologists starting at 1 p.m.
"We are so excited to have these offspring and look forward to continuing to educate others and work to save this species in the wild," Long said in the release.
Komodo dragons are the largest, heaviest lizards in the world and are found on the Indonesian islands of the Lesser Sunda group, including Rintja, Flores, and the island of Komodo. They are listed as a vulnerable species with only 5,000 left in the wild mostly due to limited range and habitat loss, according to the release.
The zoo began housing Komodo dragons in 2012 through the participation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan. The SSP is a population management program focusing on animal breeding of threatened species by strictly monitoring the placement and propagation of selected species.
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