Komodo dragon siblings at Phoenix Zoo die a week apart

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Ivan By Jennifer Thomas Ivan By Jennifer Thomas
Gaia looking at Phoenix Zoo guests By Jennifer Thomas Gaia looking at Phoenix Zoo guests By Jennifer Thomas
Baby Komodo dragon By Jennifer Thomas Baby Komodo dragon By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Two nearly 20-year-old Komodo dragons passed away earlier in September at the Phoenix Zoo.

Ivan and Gaia were siblings who hatched from the same group of eggs. Ivan, a male Komodo dragon, died on Sept. 12, and Gaia, a female, died a week later on Sept. 19. The usual life span for Komodo dragons held in captivity is through their late teens.

Necropsy reports show that Ivan and Gaia passed away from various age-related conditions, said Paula Swanson, Phoenix Zoo’s manager of ectotherms.

“Ivan was a big animal with an even bigger personality and will be missed,” Swanson said. “He was curious and would interact with visitors through the glass.”

Gaia was also a character and often teased her brother, Swanson said.

“They had to modify their exhibit because sometimes when Ivan would walk by, if she saw his tail sticking out from under the doorway, she’d go over and try to nip Ivan’s tail. It would make him mad. She was being a bratty sister,” Swanson said.

Since Komodo dragons are known for being defensive and territorial, Gaia and Ivan were always separated for safety precautions.

Phoenix Zoo has two remaining Komodo dragons that were born in January in Memphis, Tenn. and arrived at the zoo in mid-March. They are currently unnamed and living in the Bush House until they grow.

Phoenix Zoo plays a role in conservation of Komodo dragons. There are currently 3,000 to 5,000 dragons living in the wild among four small Indonesian islands, many a part of Komodo National Park. The islands are part of the "ring of fire," which has 452 volcanoes, making up more than 75 percent of the world’s total volcanoes.

Global warming, rising sea levels, and other natural disasters have put Komodo dragons at risk of extinction. International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as vulnerable.

Phoenix Zoo provides funding for and works with the Komodo dragon Species Survival Plan (SSP) to help keep an eye on the amount of Komodo dragons in zoos and support conservation of Komodo dragons in their natural habitats through the Komodo Survival Program.

Ivan and Gaia helped teach the Phoenix Zoo a lot about Komodo dragons. They are intelligent animals and help in operant conditioning and training with zookeepers. Ivan taught Phoenix Zoo workers about Komodo dragon medical care.

"He certainly gave us the opportunity to learn a lot about the medical management of captive Komodo dragons. This information will be very helpful to other zoos that manage this species," said Dr. Gary West, executive vice president of Animal Health and Collections at the Phoenix Zoo. "We have been very fortunate to work with such a magnificent animal."