The following is an article I wrote which will appear in the Sep. 1995
newsletter of the League of Florida Herpetological Societies. Any
criticisms, suggestions, or comments are very welcome.--Phil
FERTILE FEMALE DRAGON
WILL NO LONGER BE BRED
By Philip Averbuck,
--Special to the League of Florida Herpetological Societies--
Dale Marcellini, Curator of Reptiles at the National Zoo in
Washington, D.C., has confirmed a rumor that many reptile enthusiasts had
feared: the Zoo is ending the breeding career of its famous female Komodo
Dragon, Sobot, and has even consented to the "sacrifice" of her last 10
eggs, for genetic research.
In two wide-ranging interviews, Marcellini provided details on the
future of the captive-breeding program at the Zoo, as well as the concerns
Zoo officials that one fertile female appears to be flooding the country
hatchlings. This concern lead to the decision to prevent Sobot from
The National Zoo's Animal Welfare Committee made this
decision in an attempt to expand the genetic diversity of Komodo monitors
outside of Indonesia, said Marcellini. All of the 57 Komodo dragons
in the US have come from eggs laid by Sobot. She is the only Komodo
dragon ever known to have laid viable eggs outside of Indonesia. But,
Marcellini, "We won't breed our female again."
The Zoo has sent Sobot's last ten fertile eggs to Professor Tim
at the University of Florida at Gainesville. Says Marcellini: "We want to
Prof. Gross to validate his sexing method, which uses the albumen of the
Such a technique would enable us to determine the sex of the animal early.
By knowing the sex of the animals as hatchlings, we can be much more
efficient in our captive breeding programs, placing hatchlings
It is extremely difficult to sex Komodo dragons accurately."
Marcellini also pointed out that Prof. Gross's technique, if
"will allow us to go back and confirm our own albumen specimens," which
had been takes as samples from earlier Zoo clutches. The Zoo will then be
able to retroactively determine the sex of the hatchlings it has produced.
Marcellini emphasized that the eggs would be "sacrificed humanely.
We don't want to get within less than a month of the projected hatching
before they are sacrificed." He did not provide details of how the eggs
be sacrificed, but he did say the method was chosen in consultation with a
number of professional herpetologists.
The National Zoo plans to trade juvenile Komodos with two other
Zoos--the Ueno Zoo in Japan, and another in Germany--for *** female
Komodo dragons to bring to the United States. These animals will be
into the National Zoo's so-far-uniquely successful breeding program. The
plan is to introduce two new ***lines into the stock of captive Komodo
dragons in the US.
"We just have too many hatchlings from our female," said
"The point is to reduce the number of hatchlings from her." He is also
concerned that the United States may soon have too many Komodo dragons
in captivity, irrespective of source. "There's really not that many
that can display these animals properly and humanely," he said.
Marcellini hopes the "new" dragons will arrive in the US in the
to 6 months. Their importation has been an ordeal; "You've got more
paperwork than you've got dragons," he quipped.
Marcellini commented on the unique success of the National Zoo's
Komodo monitor breeding program. "We seem to have the recipe. We really
keep them hot. We don't have the biggest enclosure, but we sure keep it
and they seem to like the dirt substrate. On the other hand, it could be
we just found a great female," he added.
In the Komodo dragon's native Indonesia, there have been a few
captive breedings, "at least five. But it's been done haphazardly, with
system or consistency." The National Zoo will be hosting a workshop in
November 1995, to share information on the Komodo breeding program, and
zookeepers from Indonesia, as well as other countries, will attend.
The National Zoo's policy was sharply criticized by Wayne Hill,
Director of the National Reptile Breeder's Expo and President of the
Florida Herpetological Society. When informed of the plan to end the
breeding of its female and sacrifice her fertile eggs, Hill said, "No
rare as Komodo dragons are in this country should be sacrificed. If zoos
choose not to breed rare animals, rather than breed them and sell the
offspring, they are doing a disservice to their supporters and to the
Remember, the National Zoo is supported by your tax dollars, and mine."
Hill also took issue with Marcellini's concern that there might
more Komodo dragons in the US than responsible institutions to care for
them. "The day when every American kid has the chance to see a Komodo
dragon in the flesh, without a very long journey, then we can talk about a
of Komodos. But I believe we will never see that day, frankly."
In response to a question, Marcellini strongly opposed the notion
the Komodo dragon breeding programs could improve their genetic diversity
by feeding a small number of wild specimens--perhaps 10 a year--into the
program. "I don't want to encourage the taking of any more dragons from
wild." When asked if such a minimal culling of *** (and ***istic)
Komodo dragons might be beneficial for the wild populations (estimated to
number 5,000 to 7,000), Marcellini disagreed. "They've done just fine for
thousands of years without human interference; I don't see why we should
Marcellini pointed out that, unlike such other large carnivores as
hyenas, and tigers, the human population which comes into contact with the
Komodo dragon on its remote home islands is very small, and stable. He
acknowledge that, on the island of Flores (the largest island of the
human population is substantial (about one million) and growing. "So you
have some potential conflicts with humans on Flores in the future."
Wayne Hill had harsh words for the AAZPA (American Association of
Zoos, Parks and Aquariums), which he said looks down snobbishly at private
breeders of *** species. "The AAZPA is split up into cliques, which
united on one goal: to convince the public that AAZPA members are the
legitimate keepers of *** animals in the world. Of course, as anyone
familiar with the tremendous success of private reptile breeders knows,
just absolute [nonsense]." Hill also criticized what he sees as the pure
hypocrisy of supposedly "non-commercial" zoos. "No, they won't sell
animals...But a single zoo will do millions of dollars of business in
based T-shirts, hats, books, posters, dolls, and jackets. Now, is that
"commercial" or not? And then they look down their noses at private
breeders who manage to actually produce more and more rare species."
Philip Averbuck has been a herpetophile for over 30 years. He is
an attorney in Boston, where he works for an investment firm. He is
always looking for hot tips for herp stories, and he may be contacted on-
Phil Averbuck, Watertown, Mass.