June 30, 1997

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Pittsburgh zoo angling for rare Komodo dragon

BY ANTHONY BREZNICAN

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- If the Pittsburgh Zoo gets its way, an endangered lizard famous for eating its young and attacking the hand that feeds it will arrive on loan this summer.

The Komodo dragon, which grows to an average length of 9 feet and weighs about 200 pounds, is one of the world's most endangered animals. The zoo and the Pittsburgh Herpetological Society are negotiating to borrow one of the lizards from the National Zoological park in Washington, D.C.

But they aren't alone in their quest.

"Nine zoos are trying to acquire a Komodo dragon, including Walt Disney World, but you can't just get one because you have a lot of money," said Trooper Walsh, a biologist who oversees the lizards at the National Zoo.

Walsh said reptile keepers at the Pittsburgh Zoo have the proper expertise to handle the prized Komodo.

But taking care of the giant reptile is not easy. They are predators with powerful tails and strong legs who have been known to eat their young -- not to mention sailors shipwrecked on the islands in Indonesia from which they originate.

Their skin can also carry deadly strains of salmonellosis -- a bacteria that causes salmonella.

In 1992, the National Zoo became the first zoo outside of Indonesia to produce Komodo dragon hatchlings. They placed 55 of the hatchlings in 22 U.S. zoos and four overseas.