Appreciate a Dragon Day

Happy Appreciate a Dragon Day! While dragons are technically mythical creatures, the Komodo dragon, known as the world’s heaviest lizard, is without a doubt the most similar-looking living creature. Hi, I’m Rae Karpinski, and as the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden’s primary caretaker of Komodo dragons and lead caretaker of herpetology, I know there is a lot to appreciate about these unique animals!

Here at the Zoo, we’re home to two adult Komodo dragons, 10-year-old female, Kotara, and 7-year-old male, Padar. Their habitat is located in the Zoo’s Sanctuary Asia habitat, which is fitting, considering their species in endemic to Indonesia. 

Padar has been at the Zoo since 2018, while Kotara arrived in 2011 at just three months old. When I first started caring for Kotara, she could fit into the palm of my hand. It’s been an extreme pleasure watching her become the impressive adult dragon you see today. We’re grateful to be home to Padar and Kotara who have proven to be excellent ambassadors for their species.

So, why should you appreciate Komodo dragons? There are many reasons:

  • SIZE! This vulnerable species is impressive in size, reaching up to 10 feet in length - its tail often growing half as long as its body.

 

  • STRONG SENSES! While their vision is certainly a strength, their sense of smell is even more powerful – allowing them to detect deceased prey from up to five miles away.

 

  • HUNTING! When hunting, Komodo dragons rely on their camouflage. Its sharp claws and serrated, shark-like teeth help it to tear into prey, which includes carrion, deer, pigs, smaller dragons and water buffalo.

 

  • SPEED! Komodo dragons can reach speeds of up to 13 miles per hour for a short period of time when locating prey.

 

  • SPECIAL SKILLS! They are exceptional swimmers and climbers.

 

  • SMARTS! Komodo dragons are also highly-intelligent creatures.

Speaking of intelligence, Padar and Kotara have demonstrated the ability to recognize their own names and differentiate between their caretakers. As caretakers, this ability helps us immensely when performing daily husbandry procedures and shifting them between habitats.

The bond I’ve created with the Komodo dragons is something I’m proud of and is evident in their daily behavior. In the mornings, for example, Kotara and Padar greet me at the front of their individual, indoor habitats and present their bodies for belly rubs. The two dragons have very distinct personalities. Padar is laid back and enjoys sunning on his favorite rock. When he’s not relaxing, however, he can be seen climbing the columns inside his habitat. Kotara has a sassy personality and likes to spend her time digging tunnels all throughout her habitat.

The Komodo dragon is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation due to habitat loss and poaching. In an effort to conserve their species, the Zoo is a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan™ (SSP) for Komodo dragons. Padar came to the Zoo as part of an SSP breeding recommendation for Kotara.

Because Komodo dragons are solitary, Padar and Kotara only share space for breeding purposes, or what we call “dragon dates”. However, they are able to see and smell each other on a regular basis between the mesh of their habitats.

I appreciate that I’m able to work with these amazing dragons every day, so I hope that these fun facts helped you to learn to appreciate them, too! I encourage you to visit Padar and Kotara at the Zoo’s Sanctuary Asia habitat very soon.

- Rae Karpinski, lead caretaker of herpetology

Photos: Rae Karpinski

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