Rediscovered Dragon and Its Guardians

I met the Zoos Victoria Director Dr Jenny Gray after almost two years. In the administration building of Melbourne Zoo we talked about what had happened during that time. “And most importantly, after ten years of fruitless searching we found Victorian dragon. It went unobserved for fifty-four years and many considered it extinct. But we didn’t want to admit that.”

A moment later the “Victorian dragons” were being shown to me by their keeper. First the adult one, captured in the wild, and then a grown young, the very first, which was successfully bred in human care! With trembling hands, I quickly took a few pictures. Not many people have photographed this animal…

However, I should put the record straight about the term “Victorian dragon”. There are over one hundred “dragons” living in Australia, and in this case the taxon is called Victorian grassland earless dragon, Tympanocryptis pinguicolla by its scientific name. It does not have a Czech name, but agama viktorijská, or rather agamka viktorijská could be the proper name. After all it measures some 15 centimetres. Together with its overall expression, the colouration and a row of spines on its neck give this small lizard a certain dragon-like appearance.

Victorian grassland earless dragon was re-discovered last year in January. During a survey on the site, located west from Melbourne, which preceded its planned development, young zoologists Pat Monarca and Emi Arnold captured one specimen and sent its photo to the relevant Melbourne Zoo staff.

“My colleagues got thrilled,” Jenny told me. “It was like if a living thylacine was discovered. But then a deep disappointment came. After taking the photo, the finders released the captured individual back. What if no other one will be found?”

Fortunately, that did not happen. Although only two males and one female were initially found in the newly discovered locality of occurrence – too little for founding a rescue breeding, so another disappointment –, the number of captured animals was later increasing after all.

Step by step, Melbourne Zoo succeeded in collecting 29 Victorian grassland earless dragons originating from the wild. And in between (also thanks to experience with breeding a related species Tympanocryptis lineata) young were successfully bred. On the day of my visit there were 83 Victorian dragons in Melbourne Zoo.

Besides searching for more individuals at the locality of Waddawurung Country (recently also thanks to a search by specially trained dogs) and increasing the population of Victorian grassland earless dragons in the human care, the Melbourne Zoo keepers want to select five suitable localities where they will release the bred specimens. But there will still be a long way to go before that can happen.

“Melbourne Zoo is now the dragons’ zoological garden. Notice, that we call attention to dragons across the entire area,” Jenny pointed out to me when we were leaving the breeding facilities of the Victorian dragons. “We are the Dragon Guardians.”

Photo and text : Miroslav Bobek