Louisville Zoo Says Goodbye to Komodo Dragon
Louisville, KY., – With sadness, the Louisville Zoo said goodbye to its 23-year-old male Komodo dragon yesterday. “Big Man” as he was affectionately called had been at the Louisville Zoo most of his life since arriving from the Cincinnati Zoo in March 1994. He came to the Zoo unsexed and named “Mariah” in honor of the Cincinnati Zoo herpetologist’s daughter. Shortly afterward, keepers determined the lizard was male and began referring to him as “Big Man.”
In April 2016, keepers noticed the nearly 8 foot lizard had difficulty moving around in his enclosure. The Zoo’s veterinary staff evaluated the lizard and consulted with a local veterinary neurologist and veterinary surgeon. The lizard had tetraparesis, or profound weakness affecting all four limbs. A compressive spinal cord lesion high in the neck was suspected, as this problem had been described in other Komodo dragons in North America and Europe. Palliative care was prescribed via steroid therapy. Initially, this treatment was highly effective and dramatically improved the lizard’s mobility and quality of life. However, the lizard’s condition recently became unresponsive to steroid therapy and a surgical treatment was not considered a feasible option. Given his inability to move and thermoregulate, Zoo staff made the difficult animal welfare decision to humanely euthanize “Big Man”
Pathologic evaluation is ongoing but advanced imaging of the head and neck (MRI and CT) have confirmed the suspected cervical spinal cord compression. The post mortem findings will further expand what is known of Komodo dragon anatomy and assist with future medical care.
“Big Man” was the second oldest Komodo dragon in North America; the oldest is at the Honolulu Zoo.
Komodo dragons are named after one of the Indonesian islands they inhabit. They are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and their population is in decline due to their limited range. Adult male Komodo dragons in the remnant wild can weigh over 150 pounds. They are the largest lizard in the world and there is still scientific debate as to whether their saliva has a venom-like quality.
The Louisville Zoo, a nonprofit organization and state zoo of Kentucky, is dedicated to bettering the bond between people and our planet by providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for visitors, and leadership in scientific research and conservation education. The Zoo is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
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