First critically endangered dragons hatch at Melbourne Zoo

12 December 2023

In a world-first, tiny Victorian grassland earless dragons have emerged from their eggs at Melbourne Zoo.

This good news is connected to a NESP collaboration that is trialling the use of detection dogs to sniff out threatened reptiles.

The new Victorian grassland earless dragon hatchlings are kept in climate-controlled conditions and cared for by a specialist keeper. The hatchling nursery and keeper were funded through a $246,000 donation from American breakthrough genetic engineering and de-extinction company Colossal Biosciences.

The Victorian grassland earless dragon is listed as Critically Endangered (under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999).

Until January 2023, it had not been sighted for more than half a century and was widely believed to be extinct. The recovery, breeding and protection of the dragon is essential to the survival of the species.

A small orange and brown lizard is being born - its head pokes out of its white egg case.

A Victorian grassland earless dragon hatching from its egg. Image: Rory Keenan

The breeding program for the baby dragons

The breeding program, consisting of 16 male and 13 female wild recovered dragons has been established by the Victorian Grassland Earless Dragon Recovery team. The program is a feature of the action statements for the species under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee (FFG) Act being prepared by DEECA.

The Victorian Grassland Earless Dragon Recovery team is a collaboration between the Victorian Government’s Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA), the Australian Government’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW), Museums Victoria, Wildlife Profiles Pty Ltd, Wadawurrung Traditional Owner Aboriginal Corporation and Zoos Victoria.

“The hatching of these little dragons is the culmination of the hard work and persistence of Victorian environmentalists and scientist over many years and gives hope for our endemic wildlife to all Victorians,” said Minister for Environment, Steve Dimopoulos.

“These little dragons are the first generation of our insurance population of Victorian grassland earless dragons and are key to bringing this species back from the brink of extinction.”

“This first success is a small step on the road to fighting the extinction of this precious Victorian reptile, it’s incredible to see what has been achieved by the recovery team over the 10 months since their re-discovery,” added Zoos Victoria CEO, Dr Jenny Gray. 

For more on the project to safeguard threatened reptile populations, read about our research project: ‘Trialling detection dogs as a novel method for finding threatened species’.

If you live in, or are visiting Melbourne, you can also visit this rare reptile at the Melbourne Zoo.

Banner photo by Rory Keenan. 

Researchers involved

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