Dragons are real at Loveland Living Planet AquariumSep 07, 2023 02:50PM ● By Katherine Weinstein
Raja, a juvenile Komodo dragon, who came to Loveland Living Planet Aquarium last June, is adjusting well to his new habitat. (Photo courtesy of Loveland Living Planet Aquarium)
Last June, Loveland Living Planet Aquarium welcomed a young Komodo dragon to its animal community. Hatched at the Bronx Zoo in November 2021 under the auspices of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, the reptile was flown to Utah in a crate. Aquarium staff members have been careful to ensure his good health and well-being. Since being introduced to his new living space, the Komodo dragon recently named Raja is settling in well and already making an impression on visitors.
Freshwater Aquarist Chuck Becker oversees Raja’s care. “He is doing really, really well,” he said. “He is very inquisitive. We’re very pleased at how he has adjusted.”
Komodo dragons are native to the islands of Indonesia and require a very warm and humid environment. Becker explained that the ambient temperature in Raja’s habitat is kept between 85 and 95 degrees. Special light bulbs are used to simulate sunlight. In fact, four different types of lighting and heating elements are used to create slightly varying degrees of light, heat and humidity. Importantly, Raja’s habitat has areas just for basking in the light.
Aquarium staff have already begun doing training exercises with Raja. “It’s good mental stimulus for him,” Becker said. “We want to get him used to us and get us used to him.”
One type of training is called “target training” in which an animal is trained to move to a specific area by going to a certain object. In Raja’s case, he is learning to touch the tip of his nose to a buoy. He is also being crate-trained. “We want to get him to learn that his crate isn’t scary,” Becker explained. Through such training, it will be easier for keepers to move Raja and give him veterinary care as needed.
As apex predators, Komodo dragons are carnivores. “They are not picky eaters,” Becker said. “In the wild, they can eat up to 80% of their body weight but then won’t eat again for weeks.”
At the Aquarium, Raja eats smaller meals two to three times a week. His diet includes mice, rats, chicks, quail chicks and fish. “He is a very generalist type of eater,” Becker said.
He is already growing and gaining weight. Raja currently weighs about two kilograms but could potentially grow to be over 10 feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds. The day will come when Raja will outgrow his current habitat in the Ford Expedition Asia Gallery. When that happens, the Aquarium will be ready to relocate him to a new space in the brand new Science Learning Center.
Karmel Harper, director of marketing and PR at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, said, “The Science Learning Center is expected to open by the fourth quarter 2024 and will house multiple classrooms, more event space, and a multi-story Asia habitat, which will include a much larger Komodo dragon habitat that will provide ample room for Raja as he continues to grow.”
This month, passersby will begin to see construction happening on the new building. “The design honors the form of Utah's Wasatch Mountains, paying tribute to Loveland Living Planet Aquarium's home,” Harper said. “Within its walls, the building furthers our mission of inspiring people to explore, discover, and learn about earth's diverse ecosystems.”
Raja is already doing his part to further that mission. “People are really excited to see him,” Becker said. “Kids can get down on his eye level. Raja can recognize faces, he can really look at you and create a connection. It’s been fun to watch people connect with him.”
Loveland Living Planet Aquarium is located at 12033 Lone Peak Parkway in Draper. For tickets and more information, visit livingplanetaquarium.org. λ