ALLENWOOD - Dragons are living at Reptiland Zoo along Route 15.
Two Komodo dragons recently joined the zoo family and are getting their own exhibit, which soon will open, zoo officials hope.
Only 2 years old, the unnamed male and female already measure more than 3 feet in length.
Komodo dragons will be housed in a new exhibit opening soon at Reptiland Zoo, Route 15.
The species come from Indonesia's Lesser Sunda Islands in the Sea of India.
"We have wanted to do this for years," said Chad Peeling, operations manager, of getting komodo dragons.
Peeling opened the door to their dwelling as the female moved along a branch. She stopped, but the male didn't hesitate to approach Peeling to investigate.
"They are very, very different," he said, while the male stuck its forked tongue out to the camera lens, checking out the humans in front of him.
"The first thing a dragon does when it hatches from an egg is, it goes right up a tree," he said. "And, it stays there, or it would be eaten by an adult."
The komodo dragon, a predator, has been compared to a tiger in terms of hunting skills. Peeling said it can hunt and take down a large water buffalo by ambushing it.
While the pair of dragons wait for their new home to be ready, they live comfortably inside the main zoo, but not where visitors can view them yet.
Peeling said the dragons, which are endangered in the wild, came from the Los Angeles Zoo as part of an international breeding program, called Species Survival Plan, or SSP.
"What we are doing here is participating in an international program to conserve komodo dragons," he said.
The zoo has been on a waiting list for years to receive dragons. In the past two years, the LA Zoo had a big breeding success, Peeling said.
"They called one day and said we have some good news," he said.
Peeling said there is concern about the komodo dragon population in captivity due to reproductive problems.
The new building will not only serve to house the dragons for visitors to see but also will serve as a breeding center for the SSP.
"It will play an important role here," he said.
Construction for their habitat began in the fall.
In addition to the komodo dragons, the 3,000-square-foot exhibit will feature interpretive and interactive exhibits on the species and the area from which they come.
Peeling said it is a very specialized, complicated design for the dragons, which require an incredible amount of heat and room.
"They need 95 degrees every day, all year around," he said. "Could you imagine every day of the year being mid- to upper 90s in the scorching sun? It's tough."
The walls are 18-inches thick and are incredibly insulated.
The roof will be a living, or green, roof, covered with soil and plants, which also help with insulation.
"The roof will be cut out and is going to have gigantic skylights so a lot of natural light will pour down," Peeling said.
The unique design of the exhibit will allow visitors a chance to actually walk into the building and be in the center of the dragons, with glass surrounding them.
"You (essentially) will be in the cage and the dragons will be loose all around you," he said.
Reptiland's adult dragons could reach up to 8 to 9 feet in length and weigh more than 100 pounds.
"Komodos are different. They are more like cats. They are very active and very curious," Peeling said.
Outside the building, the dragons will have access to a yard that will include a pool, waterfall and live plants, all protected by glass.
The building is coming along, but there is no projected date for the exhibit to open.
"It's really taking longer than anyone ever imagined," he said. "I hate to be vague (but) I can't give a finished date."