How to train your dragon

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Iri Gill explains what it’s like to look after ZSL London Zoo’s latest addition:  Ganas, a juvenile Komodo dragon.

 What does a day in the life of a Komodo dragon keeper entail?

Ganas is kept in his den overnight. This gets him into a regular routine and  allows us to check him at close quarters every morning. Before he is let out into  his large paddock we do a few checks, including making sure the heating and  lighting are on, and checking the paddock, his pool and the windows to ensure  they’re clean. During this time, Ganas has access to special heating and lighting in his den too, which enables him to have an early morning bask. At around 10am he is let out. At lunchtime we prepare enrichment for him and have a target training session. We try and do something different everyday, and sometimes twice a day, to keep him stimulated. He is then recalled or targeted back into his den at the end of the day.

What’s the best part of your day?

It’s definitely the enrichment sessions that I enjoy the most. This is the process of creating an environment that enables an animal to express its natural behaviours. It is great watching these animals exhibiting their species-typical behaviours when a variety of enrichment is used.

What’s the worst?

The Komodo dragon house has a lot of viewing windows around the enclosure. It takes us a fair amount of time to clean them every day – but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not too bad!

Komodo dragons are the largest lizard on Earth – did you have to build a special enclosure to house Ganas?

At ZSL London Zoo we have a large custom-built enclosure where we can house Komodo dragons. As Ganas is a young agile animal, we have had to make some adaptations for him. The original boundary wall would have been really easy for him to climb over, but our modifications to the enclosure have worked well and he can’t get out.

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Ganas forms part of the Land of Giants exhibit at ZSL London Zoo, which also features huge Galapagos tortoises and a Chinese giant salamander

 

“Even though he is a relatively calm animal we are always aware of what he is potentially capable of.”

Komodo dragons can be quite dangerous – what kind of precaustions do you take when interacting with them?

We have a huge amount of respect for the animals and we work with them every day so we understand their behaviours and any changes to their behaviour. We always have two zookeepers present when working with and going in with Ganas. Even though he is a relatively calm animal we are always aware of what he is potentially capable of.

Since Komodo dragons can eat up to 80 per cent of their own body weight in one feed, what kind of diet is Ganas given?

We have a a strict diet plan for Ganas, to keep him at a healthy weight. His meals are divided between a carcass feed and an enrichment and training allowance – this means we’re always keeping a close eye on how much he is eating each day. This allowance is dependent on Ganas’ weight, which we monitor regularly, and change throughout his life. His diet can consist of chunks and joints of horse and cow meat, rodents, fish, chicks and anything else we think might be a great addition to his dinner!

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As Ganas is still young, he is only 1.75m (5.7ft) long. However, as an adult he could grow to 10m (32.8ft)

 

Become a keeper

So you want to finally realise your dream and become a keeper working in a zoo or sanctuary such as ZSL London Zoo. What do you need on your CV to get there? First, you’ll need at least five good GCSEs and one or more A-Level qualifications. It’s also a good idea to look into a BTEC (or an equivalent certification) in Animal Science or Husbandry. Volunteering at your local zoo or shelter is a great way to gain hands-on experience and will show you many of the practical aspects of professional keeping – such as plenty of physical work and regular weekend shifts. “A keen interest, passion and a desire to learn are also ideal qualities,” adds Iri Gill.

 

Also:

Are Komodo dragons venemous?

 

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