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October 24, 2014

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Animals:

Dragons on the Strip: Las Vegas chosen as one of seven homes for rare lizards

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Courtesy Photo

Komodo dragons are the world’s largest and heaviest lizards, weighing up to 300 pounds and growing up to 10 feet in length.

The Shark Reef

Sandtiger Sharks are found in the western and eastern Atlantic Ocean, western Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean in shallow bays, sandy coastal waters and along tropical reefs. They can grow up to 10.5 feet in length and feed on large and small bony fishes, smaller sharks, rays, squid and crustaceans. Sandtiger Sharks have so many teeth they cannot fully close their mouth. Launch slideshow »

Hours

The exhibit is open from:

10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday

10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Ticket prices

$18 for adults

$12 for children ages 5 through 12

Children 4 and younger are free.

Nevada residents with a valid ID receive a discount: $15 for adults and $10 for children 5 and older.

It’s the summer of the dragon at Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef Aquarium.

After a year of preparation, two Komodo dragons from Prague are on display.

The juvenile dragons, both male, join a large number of exotic reptiles showcased at the aquarium, including an adult Komodo dragon, a golden crocodile and a green sea turtle.

Only one of the dragons will be on display at a time. Officials plan to rotate the adult and two teens into the exhibit. Keeping them together in the same den could have deadly consequences.

The Komodo dragons arrived in Las Vegas from the Praha Zoological Garden in the Czech Republic about a year ago when the Association of Zoo and Aquariums approved the Shark Reef as a new home for the Indonesian reptiles. The Mandalay Bay aquarium was one of seven sites selected to take care of 10 Komodo dragons hatched and raised by humans in Prague.

Association officials look for two things — ability and experience — when determining which aquariums get dragons, Shark Reef Curator Jack Jewell said. Because there are fewer than 5,000 in the world, the population is kept under strict watch.

“We had the appropriate holding space and we had the experience,” Jewell said.

The Shark Reef has displayed its adult Komodo dragon since the early 2000s and once even shipped him to Hawaii to breed.

In the year since the dragons arrived, animal caretakers have kept them in a private holding facility at Mandalay Bay. They trained them to enter and exit a holding crate, which is crucial for safety.

Now, they're ready for public debut.

“We are honored to house and care for these Komodo dragons,” Aquarium Director Adrienne Rowland said. “It’s rare to have Komodo dragons with bloodlines completely unrelated to dragons hatched in North America.”

The reptiles are the largest and heaviest lizards in the world. They can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds.

And their bites are deadly. Komodo dragon saliva is packed with about 50 strains of bacteria, which infect prey and kill it in days. Scientists are studying the venomous saliva for use in antibacterial medications.

Aquarium crews had to alter the dragon exhibit to accommodate the newcomers and improve safety. Baby Komodo dragons like to climb.

“We had to do some baby proofing,” MGM spokeswoman Morgan Hernquist said. “They needed time to adjust.”

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