Thursday, September 22
“That is one handsome lizard!” Words any Herpetology Keeper would enjoy hearing while leisurely passing by a group of Zoo guests standing in awe over a reptile that resembles something from the Age of Dinosaurs. My Name is Trent Niesen, and as a Herpetology Keeper here at Zoo Atlanta, I have the pleasure of working with all of our reptiles, amphibians and aquatics in the Herpetology Department.
I recently have had the privilege of acquiring responsibility over that “handsome lizard,” a 6-year-old male Komodo dragon named Rinca. His name was derived from Rinca, one of the three Indonesian islands that these endangered lizards inhabit. The other two islands that these terrestrial giants roam are Komodo and Flores. Rinca serves as a great animal ambassador for all of our amazing guests and provides an opportunity for people to connect with the world’s largest lizard.
Most visitors take note of his beauty, but do not realize the level of intelligence that accompanies his looks. Rinca is incredibly smart and constantly analyzing his environment around him. He has the capability of learning a variety of behaviors that aid us in better providing for his well-being. We are excited to grow his repertoire of behaviors over time. What is neat about training is, when Rinca accurately does a behavior I have asked, he is rewarded with a positive stimulus; this is called positive reinforcement. As Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world, you can bet his appetite for an assortment of rodents and poultry is greatly accepted as rewards for a job well done. Our aim is to keep a positive environment at all times, rewarding what we are asking for and ignoring the rest. We use these training practices to set our animals up for vet procedures, daily husbandry, or to simply keep the animals’ minds active and alert. It is truly an incredible thing to watch Rinca think through situations and actively problem solve. Maybe some of you have witnessed him actively manipulating his boomer ball in his habitat, or trailing down a prey item that we have scented his habitat with. These things all aid in the overall well-being of our animals here at Zoo Atlanta.
Regardless of what animal interests you, please stop by and admire Rinca the Komodo dragon either in his indoor area or his outdoor habitat, seven days a week in the Asian Forest section of Zoo Atlanta. Having trouble locating him? Please ask a friendly Zoo employee for directions. I look forward to eavesdropping in on more of the awesome comments about Rinca. If you happen to see me checking in on him or standing near his habitat, please stop and say hello!
Keeper III, Herpetology