VIRGINIA BEACH – Virginia Aquarium staff started monitoring Jude the Komodo dragon daily near the end of April.
The normally “very laid back lizard” — a member of the world’s largest lizard species — had lost interest in eating and playing, according to a release. She had just laid a nest of eight eggs. Like the previous two times she had delivered, those eggs would never hatch. They were not viable, according to staff.
Blood work showed no signs that Jude had an infection or disease. But the Aquarium staff knew something was wrong. An ultrasound early this week finally showed signs of the problem.
The monitor lizard — on breeding loan from the San Antonio Zoo to mate with Teman, the male dragon determined by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to be her “ideal genetic match” — had abnormalities in her reproductive tract.
Such problems can kill reptiles, especially females, according to the release.
Veterinarians took the lethargic lizard into emergency surgery Tuesday and found she had ruptured follicles and yolk coelomitis, a condition that stems from ovaries failing to release follicles normally. The condition is implicated in nearly a quarter of all female monitor lizard deaths, according to Matt Klepeisz, an aquarium spokesman.
Jude’s reproductive organs had to be removed.
She is recuperating at the Aquarium from the operation, which Klepeisz compared to spaying a pet.
“Staff remains cautiously optimistic about her recovery,” the Aquarium said in its release.
Jude came to Virginia Beach almost four years ago to mate with Teman, one of the aquarium’s two male Komodo dragons. She replaced its previous female lizard, which had left in 2011 to meet a mate in Toronto, according to media reports from the time.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums oversees breeding of monitor lizards because the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists them as vulnerable. An estimated 6,000 remain in their only natural home, on the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia. Fewer than 100 live in accredited U.S. facilities, according to the Virginia Aquarium.
Klepeisz said it is too soon to speculate if Jude will return to San Antonio now that her hopes of breeding are gone.
“At this point, the only thing we know for certain is that she is currently recuperating at the Aquarium under our care and supervision,” Klepeisz said by email.