New baby earless monitor lizards at the Moscow Zoo for the first time

New baby earless monitor lizards at the Moscow Zoo for the first time
For the first time in the history of zoos, Moscow zoologists have managed to make this rare Malaysian lizard breed in captivity.

Several earless monitor lizards, a species listed in the Red Book, recently hatched at the Moscow Zoo. This is the first time in history that this rare Malaysian lizard (Endemic to Sarawak and West Kalimantan in Borneo Island) has hatched in captivity, at a zoo. The Moscow Zoo welcomed a total of six hatchlings from two different females. Having hatched, the lizards are now leading a lifestyle independent from their parents. Zoologists, however, closely monitor the little lizards. The hatchlings will stay in the zoo until they reach puberty, which occurs in lizards at about the age of 2.

“No other zoo has ever managed to get earless monitor lizards to breed in captivity,” said Svetlana Akulova, general director of the Moscow Zoo. “And, only few world zoos have this rare species in their collections. Apart from the Moscow Zoo, earless monitor lizards can only be found in zoos in Prague, Budapest, Germany’s Neunkirchen, and are part of two private collections in the US and Japan.”

The zoologists managed to persuade the lizards to breed by carefully selecting partners, creating the necessary environment, which is as close to natural as possible, and ensuring an optimal diet, Akulova said.

“The results of the research on the peculiarities of the behavior and the breeding of the earless monitor lizard at the Moscow Zoo is of great scientific importance to the zoological community,” Akulova noted. “Perhaps, with their help, experts will be able to produce a stable population of this species in captivity and prevent extinction.”

Among modern reptiles, the earless monitor lizard is the closest relative of mosasaurs, which went extinct by the end of Cretaceous period. These lizards are rather small; the total length of their bodies including the tail is about 40 cm. Their colour varies from dark to reddish brown.

These lizards owe their unusual name to the lack of external acoustic meatus. Earless monitor lizards are capable of hearing; however, the absence of eardrums affects their ability to hear soundwaves in the air.

Earless monitor lizards are endemic to the northeastern part of the island of Borneo. Until the middle of the last century, little was known about this lizard. Moreover, even Borneo residents were unaware of this rare reptile, as it leads a purely nocturnal life and is also extremely secretive: it skillfully camouflages itself to become indistinguishable from tree branches and stones. During the day, these lizards hide in deep burrows in the ground, mainly dug on the banks of water bodies. They are great swimmers and can hold their breath for a long time upon diving. Their diet mostly consists of earthworms.

The Moscow Zoo became a temporary home for some earless monitor lizards after the confiscation of several animals illegally smuggled from Hong Kong in November 2016. In addition to six hatchlings, the Moscow Zoo hosts eight more adult lizards – two males and six females.

Earlier this summer, the Moscow Zoo welcomed four red (Cuban) and pink flamingo chicks, which can now be seen on the Great Pond located in the old section of the zoo. This year, the zoo experienced a baby boom among hoofed families. In late May–early June, the traditional mating period, baby muskoxen, Sichuan takins (gnu goats), Dagestan aurochs and markhoors were born at the Moscow Zoo. To see the little ones getting familiar with their counterparts, play and learn more about the world, visit the ungulate enclosures in the old section. Not far from there, in the old section’s cat dens, zoo visitors can also see Siberian lynx cubs.