It’s believed to be the first time a Komodo dragon has been pictured breathing fire in a zoo. Frustratingly, it comes at a time when the zoo is closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The photo was taken by Paignton Zoo volunteer Cathy Oetegenn, who spends time around Komodo dragon Khaleesi as a Guest Experience Volunteer. Zoo keepers say that the eight-year-old female Komodo dragon is exhibiting the behaviour every hour or so throughout the day.
Paignton Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling: “Historically, dragons were known to breathe fire, of course – but up to now it was thought that we didn’t have any extant species that were flammivomous – that is, that could spew fire. As it has never been observed in hunting, it might be a display behaviour or used when defending territory. It’s such a shame that no one can come and see this amazing behaviour because we are closed.”
Khaleesi came to Devon from Barcelona Zoo in the summer of 2018. Phil Knowling added: “It’s a previously unobserved behaviour in this species. We’re finding out more about these wonderful creatures all the time – and this is definitely something new. We need to do more research. And we need to re-write our risk assessments…”
A member of the monitor lizard family, the Komodo dragon is found on a handful of Indonesian islands; Komodo is one of them. The IUCN classes the species as Vulnerable.