Endangered dragons come to life at Melbourne Zoo

18 October 2019

Melbourne Zoo's Reptile House is celebrating its 50th anniversary with its first successful captive breeding of a very rare reptile.

Two Grassland Earless Dragons hatched at the Zoo this month – underlining how the iconic Reptile House has transformed from exhibition space to animal conservation hub.

The Grassland Earless Dragon is classified as critically-endangered in Victoria and the last confirmed Victorian sighting was in 1969. Small wild populations are still found in parts of the ACT and New South Wales, where the dragons are classified as endangered.

Melbourne Zoo is working closely with interstate partners to protect and conserve the species.

Ectotherms Keeper Alex Mitchell said the Reptile House hatchings mark the first time the species has been captivebred at a zoo.

"It's very exciting. The young that have hatched out are doing really well," Mr Mitchell said. "They have started feeding and are growing. We also have a number of eggs that are still in the incubator.

“We will continue to rear these young Earless Dragons and they will form the next generation of the population at Melbourne Zoo.

"They are definitely a very shy species. But they are an inquisitive little dragon as well, constantly active, moving around and exploring their environment.”

The Grassland Earless Dragon is one of 27 priority threatened species identified in Zoos Victoria's Wildlife Conservation Master Plan.

The small dragons are light brown with white stripes running down their body with darker bands running across their back. Unlike most other lizards, they don't have external ear openings.

The dragons were once widespread across western Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT, but their population has declined because of habitat loss and drought.

Mr Mitchell said the breeding success has added to the celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Reptile House.

“It’s great to be involved with the whole array of species that we have got here and, of course, moments like these – the first captive breeding of Grassland Earless Dragons at a zoo – are definitely a proud achievement.”

The Reptile House at Melbourne Zoo opened in October 1969 and is home to snakes, crocodiles, lizards, turtles and frogs from across Australia and around the world.

The Reptile House is open to Zoo members and visitors every day of the year.