On the left, Juanito, the Komodo dragon who hatched alive. On the right, his brother who did not survive.

The story of Juanito, the Komodo dragon that hatched at Bioparc Fuengirola, and the sad secret the egg held

The popular Costa del Sol animal park recently became the first in Spain to give birth to this endangered species in the last 10 years, and only the fifth in Europe

Raquel Merino


Wednesday, 8 November 2023


After a laborious mating procedure controlled and watched over by veterinarians and members of the Herpetology team of Bioparc Fuengirola, Ora, the adult Komodo dragon of the Malaga park, laid 12 eggs. After eight months of careful incubation, in March this year the first hatchling of this endangered species hatched. He was named Juanito. He was followed by Fénix, Embum, Drakaris and Saya. Bioparc Fuengirola therefore became the first animal park in Spain to give birth to Komodo dragon hatchlings in the last 10 years and only the fifth to do so in Europe.

But Juanito's birth was doubly special, as the egg he hatched from came with a rare surprise. During the eight months of incubation, Juanito had not been alone inside; he was accompanied by his twin brother, Boquerón.

Sadly, Boqueron failed to hatch alive, despite being almost fully developed. He had deformities "that would have compromised his development had he been born alive. In particular, he had a deformed mouth. He would not have survived for long, as this developmental defect would have prevented him from eating normally," explained Rosa Martínez, veterinarian at Bioparc Fuengirola.

As the animal park pointed out, although twin births are not very common in reptiles, this phenomenon has been seen several times in snakes, turtles (including sea turtles) and lizards, including monitor lizards. "Although it is not common, it is not a one-off event," said Rosa Martínez. However, "no case has been observed in which the development of twins has been as advanced as this one in Komodo dragons; at least in captivity, which is where it would have been easily seen. There are no reports of twins in the wild, but that doesn't mean it couldn't have happened," she added.

The egg which the twins hatched from.
The egg which the twins hatched from. SUR

Now the veterinary and herpetology team at Bioparc are looking for the possible causes that caused this twin not to survive. During the autopsy, it was found that when Juanito hatched, the twin had already been lifeless for a few days. This made the team pay special attention to Juanito's evolution in his first days. "We had to check if he could have absorbed any toxin from his twin's corpse before birth, but it didn't seem to have happened and Juanito has been developing properly, showing no signs of being affected by the in-ovo death of his twin".

Microchip identification

Nine months after the hatching of the five little Komodo dragons, Bioparc Fuengirola has managed to identify them by means of a microchip. This allows them to individually identify each one of the Komodo dragons, who are part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) conservation programme .

The last one to have a chip was Juanito, the first to hatch, but the smallest of them all, having shared space inside the egg with his twin. Juanito continues to grow, feeding properly, but a little slower than the others, which is why the park's vets and herpetologists are observing him more closely and giving him personal care, according to Bioparc Fuengirola.

Critically endangered

The Komodo dragon is a critically endangered species. There are only about 1,500 of them left in the world, some 220 in conservation centres belonging to the EAZA network and the rest are in the wild on the islands of Flores, Komodo, Rinca, Padar, Nusa Kode and Gili Motang.

In the last 15 years, the Komodo dragon population has dropped by 25% due to much of the forest burning where they live, as well as poaching. This is now compounded by the huge accumulation of debris carried by ocean currents and ending up on the islands where these primitive and large monitor lizards live.

Since 2009, Bioparc Fuengirola and the Bioparc Foundation have been working on the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) of the Komodo dragon both 'ex situ' in their facilities and 'in-situ' on the island of Flores under the Komodo Survival Programme.

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