Moscow Zoo’s rare and secretive newcomers: Forest dragons hatch

December 15, 2020

Baby chameleon forest dragons (Gonocephalus chamaeleontinus) have hatched at the Moscow Zoo for the very first time. These rare lizards from the Gonocephalus genus are endemic to Southeast Asia and are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

The Moscow Zoo received two adult chameleon forest dragons in 2016. The exotic animals were delivered from Indonesia for creating the species’ reserve population in captivity. They are very shy, become easily scared and are also prone to stress. The reptiles can act aggressively when they feel afraid.

Experts created favourable conditions, similar to their natural surroundings, for the forest dragons. Daytime temperatures in their terrarium range between plus 25 and 35 degrees Celsius, and they drop to plus 15-18 degrees at night. The enclosure’s humidity levels are 80-90 percent, just like in tropical rain forests. 

“We have been looking forward to seeing the offspring of the forest dragons. It is very hard to persuade this species to reproduce in captivity. There is only one recorded case worldwide: Reptiles from the Kharkov Zoo hatched their offspring some time ago. Our forest dragons used to lay eggs, and we placed them inside incubators with a preset temperature and humidity levels. Alas, everything was in vain. This year, our specialists decided to experiment and left the eggs in the terrarium, with the parents. The mother chose the best place for storing the eggs. To the great surprise of the herpetologists, all six baby lizards hatched. This is such an important event for our zoo,” said Svetlana Akulova, the Moscow Zoo’s Director-General.

The newborns are one month old and just two cm long, and they have already been placed in a separate terrarium. In the wilderness, newborn forest dragons immediately crawl away from their mother. They are able to quickly adapt to the laws of the jungle and can find food for themselves.

The little lizards are healthy and active. So far, the zoologists have failed to determine their gender. Just like their parents, the newborns feed on crickets and vitamin additives.

So far, there are no plans for relocating the forest dragons into the main enclosure because of their fragile nervous system. However, photos and videos of the rare lizards’ life may be posted on the Zoo’s social media network accounts.

Quite possibly, the baby lizards that hatched earlier this year will relocate to other zoos in Russia and elsewhere for creating the forest dragons’ population in captivity.

The Moscow Zoo’s herpetologists are ready to share their experience for facilitating the unique reptiles’ reproduction.

Forest dragons live on the Moluccan Peninsula and also on Java Island, Sumatra and nearby small islands. The lizards prefer tropical forests and spend most of their life in the underbrush near freshwater bodies of water. They climb down only to hunt for insects, if there is no other food nearby.

The forest dragon population is steadily dwindling, due to the destruction of the tropical rain forests, the changing global environmental situation and also poaching.

These lizards have a striking appearance and resemble chameleons. A sharp-edged crest stretches along their backbone, and the crest at the back of their head is higher than their spinal crest. They boast bright colours with carpet-style patterns. The creatures are covered with green, red, yellow, brown and even turquoise scales. Each lizard is 30 to 60 cm long.

This year, rare Amur tigers, a Bolivian feline night monkey (Aotus azarae boliviensis), great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo), Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus), maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus) and Humboldt’s penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) were born at the Moscow Zoo. A baby ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) was born and a black stork (Ciconia nigra) hatched this year in spring.

A baby northern Luzon giant cloud rat (Phloeomys pallidus) was born in June, followed by a hornbill chick (Bucerotidae) in July. Pink and red flamingos, rare blue venomous pit vipers (Trimeresurus), royal ball pythons (Python regius), white-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) and lion-tailed macaques (Macaca silenus) have all sired offspring.


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