18/01/2013. Komodo Dragon enjoying the meat on its birthday at the Pretoria Zoo. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - What do you give Komodo dragons for their birthday?

The Pretoria Zoo opted for chunks of meat for Herman and Indie – their ultimate treat.

For their sixth birthday recently, and as part of the zoo’s animal enrichment programme, reptile conservator Michael Adams treated the only two Komodo dragons in Africa to more than 20kg of beef.

“Generally we give them 2 to 3kg of any type of meat a week. This should keep them busy for a while,” Adams said.

The meat was tied to a log.

“It is good exercise and stimulation for them.”

Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world and grow up to 3m long, reaching a weight of more than 70kg.

Herman and Indie are both between 2.2- and 2.3m-long and weigh between 27kg and 29kg.

Komodo dragons originate from the Indonesian islands of Komodo.

Their size is attributed to island gigantism, which makes animals isolated on an island grow bigger than those on a mainland.

For years, it has been debated whether Komodo dragons are venomous. It was believed that prey die from the bacteria in their mouths.

It has, however, been proved that the dragons have modified salivary glands that release venom, making them the largest venomous lizard in the world.

Globally, approximately 20 zoos keep these animals.

A female dragon from the Pretoria Zoo is now at the London Zoo as part of a breeding programme.

Back home, for the past year, Adams has been training Herman and Indie to become more accustomed to people to make interaction easier and allow vets to check them.

“The dragons are trained to follow a stick with a brightly coloured ball attached to it. As soon as they touch the ball with their noses, they receive a mouse as a reward.”

Komodo dragons are an endangered species, with fewer than 5 000 left in the wild.

“The issue is not their numbers but the fact that they have a small area in which they are found in the wild,” Adams said.

Their habitat on the Komodo island has been declared a protected area in an attempt to curb habitat destruction.