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March 5th 1998 Chat Transcript

Below is a transcript of the March 5th 1998 chat session with Steve Hammack Zookeeper at the Fort Worth Zoo, and Director of the Herpetological Institute foir Scientific Study.

[ModeratorJeffB] Tonight we have Steve Hammack as our guest

[ModeratorJeffB] Steve is a Zookeeper at the Fort Worth Zoo

[ModeratorJeffB] and also director of Hep. Institute for Scientific Study

[ModeratorJeffB] a breeding facility in Texas

[ModeratorJeffB] Tonight our topic...

[ModeratorJeffB] Komodos and Crocodile monitors

[ModeratorJeffB] so let me start by asking....

[ModeratorJeffB] Whats it like to work with lizards that large?

[SteveH] It can be quite interesting and a little uneasy at times.

[SteveH] A keeper at the St. Louis Zoo was hospitalized last year by a bite

- from a Crocodile Monitor.

[SteveH] Severe lacerations of the arm and a dangerous loss of blood.

[BG] Steve, do you think it will ever be possible for private keepers to

- have Komodos? Are there any laws concerning private keepers keeping them?

[SteveH] There are no laws concerning them being kept other than the fact

- that they are an endangered species. If one could get one and acquire the

- proper permits it should be feasible.

[SteveH] I don't see it happening anytime in the near future though.

[SteveH] The USFWS is keeping a close eye on where they are going at this

- point.

[Taylor] What is the largest croc & komodo monitor you've worked

- with???

[SteveH] We had NAGA, the big one at the Cincinnatti Zo0 here when we opened

- our exhibit. He was about 7.5' and aabou 175 lbs.

[Taylor] wow

[SteveH] He is the father of the 2 males we currently have at the zoo. The

- largest croc monitor was about 7' and is our breeder male.

[SteveH] Naga was a great animal and was whistle trained.

[BradK] Yes, I live in Cincinnati, the curators name escapes me at the

- moment but he lives to breed the komodos. I was wondering what the breeding

- scene is like in the US zoos and what we can expect in the future?

[SteveH] Currently the breeding has ceased until some more new bloodline

- animals make it into the courty. Miami Metro zoo has 2 new unrelated animals

- and the Memphis zoo is in the process of bringing in another 1.2 unrelated

- animals. We will get one of these females at Fort Worth.

[SteveH] The curator there is Johnny Arnett. He just published the first

- Komodo Dragon Studbook.

[SteveH] Just for everyones information, there are currently 164 Komodos in

- Captivity world wide in 40 instit;utions. The sex ratio is 21.23.120.

[Lizrdking] I've heard that the komodo's blood is rather odd.. if true could

- you explain?

[SteveH] What do you mean by odd?

[Lizrdking] I can't remeber where i heard if but I think it was odd that a

- cold blooded animal could have a high endurance rate.

[Lizrdking] (im pretty sure it was a documentry on the discovery channel)

[ModeratorJeffB] maybe a hi metabolism rate?

[SteveH] I am not sure exactly what you mean. they actually don't have a

- very high endurance as far as speed and long distances.

[SteveH] They do seem to have a fairly high metabolism rate for this type of

- animal.

[SteveH] They have an acute sense of smell, are very intelligent and each

- have their own personality.

[SteveH] They also seem to recognize certain keepers.

[Korn] Steve what and how much are the mature Komodos fed?

[SteveH] When Naga was here he was getting 6 adult rats 2 x week.

[SteveH] Sometime we also supplement with horse heart. Mostly rats.

[Elbi] Steve, what kind of education did you need and how did you get this

- job?

[SteveH] I curently have some college, never finished. Have worked in zoos

- for the past 15 years.

[SteveH] I worked for 3.5 years at a Museum , then 4.5 years at Dallas Zoo

- and now 8 years at Ft. Worth.

[Chrisk] steve-  if I'm not mistaked, ft woth has bred V. prasinus.  Were

- you involved in that project and/or know any details you're willing to

- divulge?

[SteveH] Yes, we did breed them , 2 x now. The first time we hatched 4 and

- raised 2 and the last time we hatched 2 of 3 eggs and lost both the babies.

[Chrisk] sorry for the follow up, but what are the babies dying from?

[SteveH] Chrisk, the first babies we were not sure off. The second batch

- were our own fault. They died of urate impaction from not getting enough

- hydrations.

[Boamaster] STEVE: What would one need as far as education to work in a zoo

- now?

[SteveH] WE are looking now for people with a 4 year college degree,

- preferabley  in a biological field, and some experience. Lots, and I mean

- lots, of experience can compensate for the education.

[Simmon] When was the first successful hatching of Komodos?

[SteveH] Simmon, 1992. In the States that is.

[BG] Steve, have you ever been to Komodo Island to study them? Or been to

- study the Crocs habitat?

[SteveH] I'm not that lucky, My boss has been to Komodo and assisted with

- field projects.

[BradK] Yes, Mr. Arnett,and yourself refer to Naja. Is he more important

- than other males in someway to the US zoos?

[SteveH] Brad, he is one of the founding fathers of most Komodos in the

- states.

[BradK] Are most males not fertile then?

[SteveH] In the early 90's ther were only a hadful of dragons in the states.

- Naga happened to be very fertile with one of only a couple of fertile

- females.

[ClintG] I am curious about the temperment of captive bred komodos compared

- to the wild ones?  Do you have a hands off approach at the zoo,or do you try

- to acclimate them to handling?

[SteveH] We do not have a hands off approach. Our exhibit animal, Dante, is

- a 92 hatch and is a puppy dog. We regularly go into his cage with him. He is

- large enough now ;that his attempting to climb on us is dangerous.

[SteveH] If you sit there long enough he will climb into  you rlap. Do not

- wear a rat skin cap into his cage!

[SteveH] We also are do annual check ups on them, so we want them to be as

- tame as possible.

[Chrisk] Steve, obviously any pair of Komodos that are able to produce

- hatchlings instantly become essentially genetically worthless for species

- survival plan purposes.  What steps are being taken to introduce new blood

- into captive populations?

[SteveH] New animals are slowly being brought into the captive population.

- Miami Metrozoo last year brought in 1.1 new animals and Memphis zoo is

- currently trying to bring in 1.2 new animals.

Coogan> Steve is there anything being done with DNA testing to assure good

- gentic lines reproducing and

Coogan> nothing related to each other breeding?

[SteveH] Yes. That is part of the reason for the new animals and stopping of

- the current breeding animals. The do not want too many realted animals in

- the limited space available.

[Simmon] how big is the biggest komodo in captivity?

[SteveH] That would be Naga, He is 7.5 ' and around 175 lbs.

[Taylor1]I've always read and heard that croc and komodo monitors

- get an average length of 9' is this true? If not, what is the average

- length?

[SteveH] Komodos are considered the largest monitor. They have been recorded

- to be close to 9' and supposedly up to 300 lbs, though an average adult is

- around 7' and 175 lbs. The Crocs are reportedly the longest, and some people

- say they can get to be 11' long, though half of this is tail.

[SteveH] I have never seen a croc monitor this large. An average adult is

- around 7' long.

[Elbi] Steve, are you currenly working with any crocodile monitors?

[SteveH] Yes. We were onlty the 2nd zoo in the states to reproduce this

- species and only the 4th in the world. In 1997 we had 6 hatchlings.

[SteveH] WE are the only place to have 100% hatch success. All the 3 other

- breedings were single animal hatches.

[Elbi] working with them both at the zoo or privately?

[SteveH] No, just at the zoo.

[SteveH] I don't have enough space for these guys!

[ModeratorJeffB] does anyone do them privately in the US?

[SteveH] There are a few people that have some, but no one to my knowledge

- has had success yet.

[ClintG] I would like to know if you have anything to do with the incubation

- of the Komodo eggs , and if there is anything unusual about their incubation

- compared to other reptile eggs?

[SteveH] I have no first had experience with this. From the information that

- I have, there is nothihng special about it.

[SteveH] The do have a long incuation time, 205-256 days.

[JoeM] Do you forsee komodo's in the private sector anytime soon? I don't

- mean the pet trade.

[SteveH] No, I really don't, at least not anytime soon. They are an

- endangered species and are regulated by USFWS.

[SteveH] However, if more are being produced, they eventually may start

- slipping out into the private sector at some point.

[BradK] In a recent Wild Discovery John Arnett was holding komodo

- hatchlings. Is Cincinnati having a high sucess rate, or was the camera crew

- at the right place at the right time?

[SteveH] Cincinnatti has hatched Komodos also, as well as the National Zoo.

[scuter] Have you ever heard of Crocodile Monitors crossed to a Asian Water

- Monitor or other crosses?would this occur in the wild?

[SteveH] Scruter, I have never heard of such crosses and would not expect

- this to happen in the wild either. The Crocs are much more arboreal than the

- Water monitors.

[BradK] Steve,  do the eggs show temperature sex determination?

[SteveH] Brad, They do not know at this point, but they are seeing if this

- may be the case.