Java zoo hatches rare Komodo dragons

SURABAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) - A zoo in Indonesia’s second-largest city Surabaya has succeeded in hatching Komodo dragons, the largest living species of lizard, for a second time outside their natural habitat.

Komodo dragons are found only in eastern Indonesia, in Komodo island and several other islets in the Nusa Tenggara archipelago.

Fourteen Komodo dragon eggs were hatched in incubators at the zoo in Surabaya on the main Java island over the weekend, bringing to 41 the number of the reptiles in their collection. The zoo succeeded in hatching 13 eggs in the first attempt during the 1990s.

“We collected all the eggs in September 2007 from Komodo cages, and now 14 eggs have already hatched while one has failed to hatch,” Nur Ali Faisol, head of the animal nursery at the Surabaya zoo, told reporters.

The habitat of the Komodo dragons is extremely harsh as they live on arid volcanic islands with steep slopes and low rainfall.

The lizards are generally solitary animals except during the breeding season.

Baby Komodo dragons weigh about five ounces to six ounces (140-170 grams) each and when grown they can be more than three meters (10 ft) and weigh up to 100 kg (220 pounds). They have a very keen sense of smell to track and hunt down its prey.

The lizards regularly kill animals such as pigs and small deer and sometimes even adult water buffalo.

But they are opportunistic feeders and are prepared to eat anything they can attack -- including small dragons and occasionally humans.

The saliva of the dragon has virulent bacteria that means even if its prey survives an attack it will probably die of infection later.

The life expectancy of a Komodo dragon is generally between 20 to 40 years and they are listed as endangered species. There are fewer than 5,000 of them still alive.

Reporting by Reuters Television, Writing by Ahmad Pathoni; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani