Fall in Love with Dragons at Melbourne Zoo

27 November 2020

A rare Australian reptile has gone on display to the public at Melbourne Zoo for the first time, just as keepers are celebrating some exciting breeding success for this cryptic creature.

The Grassland Earless Dragon is classified as critically endangered in Victoria and the last confirmed Victorian sighting was 50 years ago. Small wild populations of genetically distinct Grassland Earless Dragon species are still found in parts of the ACT and New South Wales, where the dragons are classified as endangered.

Sixteen dragons hatched at Melbourne Zoo's iconic Reptile House last year, the first time the species had been successfully bred at a Zoo. The young dragons are descendants of parents collected from the wild in the ACT, as Melbourne Zoo is working closely with partners to protect the species by establishing a zoo-bred insurance population.

Melbourne Zoo Ectotherms Keeper Rory Keenan said another 22 rare reptiles have hatched at the Zoo this year, and there are more fertile eggs in the incubator.

The Zoo has moved its precious population to specially-designed facilities at Melbourne Zoo's Keeper Kids area, giving Zoo members and visitors – particularly children - the chance to fall in love with the fascinating and gorgeous reptiles.

"They have not been seen in Victoria since 1969,” Mr Keenan said. “One of the reasons we have these Canberra Grassland Earless Dragons here at Melbourne Zoo is so that we can learn as much as we can about their captive husbandry in the hope that, if we do find the Victorian species, we can start working on recovering that species as well.

"This is a specially-designed facility for these Earless Dragons. It gives us opportunities to group them into social groupings or pairings. It gives them opportunities to reproduce.

"It gives them bigger and better enclosures that are better aligned to their natural history. And, because it is an environmentally controlled facility, we can drop temperatures and raise temperatures to really align it to what they would be naturally experiencing out in the wild.

"It also gives us a chance to have a couple of individuals on display in the Keeper Kids areas so a lot of kids can come through and see these little dragons in action. This is a really good opportunity to show our visitors the incredible work that is being done at Zoos Victoria with some of our threatened and endangered species here in Australia."

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.

Key partners in Melbourne Zoo's Grassland Earless Dragon conservation program include The ACT Parks and Conservation Service, The University of Canberra and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.