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Photo by Gary Ramage
Tuka the Komodo Dragon

Taronga’s reptile keepers were saddened to say goodbye to the Zoo’s grand old Komodo Dragon, Tuka, today.

At 33 years of age, Tuka was the world’s oldest Komodo Dragon in human care. He’d been experiencing a range of age-related ailments in recent years which, despite the best treatment and care, had begun affecting his movement and quality of life. 

His general condition and the arthritis in his joints had further deteriorated in recent weeks and, after a thorough health and welfare assessment, keepers and veterinary staff made the difficult decision to put him to sleep.

Tuka arrived at Taronga from Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta in 1991, as a presidential gift from Indonesia. During his first four years in Sydney, he took up residence at the front of the old Reptile House, located at the top of the Zoo.

A new exhibit was built for Tuka at the entrance of the Zoo’s newly-completed Reptile World in 1995. For the grand opening, the media were delighted as Tuka was led down from his old exhibit by a keeper holding a piece of meat in front of him as he walked.

At 2.75 metres and 70 kilograms, Tuka held the title of being the largest and perhaps the best-known lizard in Australia.

Despite his size and the notorious predatory reputation of his species, Tuka was something of a gentle giant. Each morning while cleaning the exhibit, keepers would sit beside the large dragon, giving him a gentle scratch on the head and back. He would react by lowering his head and closing his eyes, appearing to enjoy the attention.

Tuka was not only one of the Zoo’s most prominent residents; he was also an amazing ambassador for his species.

Komodo Dragons are only found on five islands in Indonesia, with a total population of less than 3000 individuals. Due to their small population, restricted distribution and threats such as habitat loss and hunting of prey species by humans, the dragons are listed as a vulnerable species.

To help protect Tuka’s wild cousins, Taronga has formed a conservation partnership with the Komodo Survival Program (KSP), funding vital population monitoring and conservation research.

Each year, the KSP conducts monitoring of dragon populations and their prey species at 10 sites throughout Komodo National Park. The information the KSP gathers on nesting ecology, habitat use and the ecology of prey species assists in guiding conservation management strategies for the species.

We hope that Tuka’s interactions with staff and visitors contributed to an awareness and appreciation of his species. He touched the lives of many Taronga keepers and will be greatly missed.

- Reptile Supervisor, Michael McFadden

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