Naga and Wanita, a pair of giant, flesh-eating Komodo dragons from Indonesia, inspired a burst of affection from their keeper Friday as he prepared for their weekend debut at the Cincinnati Zoo.
"Naga!" Cincinnati Zoo reptile supervisor Johnny Arnett shouted at the 7-foot-long, 120-pound male lizard staring back at him through the glass wall of his custom-built cage."I love them. That's the sexiest lizard in the world right there," Arnett said, whistling at Naga.
The gray-green Komodo dragons, a gift from Indonesian President Suharto to President Bush, are the second set in the United States. The first pair live at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Arnett said the Singapore Zoo has the only other set of Komodo dragons outside Indonesia.
The Indonesian ambassador to the United States, Adbul Rachman Ramly, arrived Friday for a reception to celebrate the opening of the permanent display here.
The 10-by-40-foot cage includes a bathtub-size pool of water as well as plants and a painted backdrop based on photographs Arnett took on tropical Komodo Island, the home of the reptiles, when he visited Indonesia to bring back Naga and Wanita. The lizards also have an outdoor display.
"They're 7 years old, so they have some growing to do. When they're full size, they should be 9 feet long and about 175 pounds," Arnett said.
Naga, whose slender tail makes up half his length, crawled around his cage Friday on his stocky legs, lifting his head and flicking his 6-inch forked tongue. Wanita remained in a den to one side.
"She's not hiding from us as much as she's hiding from him," Arnett said, explaining that the behavior indicates the female is carrying eggs she wants to protect.
"If she lays those eggs, and if we get them, we will be the first zoo in the Western Hemisphere to breed them in captivity," Arnett said.
David and Tracy Barker, who raise rare pythons in Baltimore for sale to zoos, said they traveled to Cincinnati for the opening of the lizard display.
"He is beautiful. He is absolutely perfect," David Barker said.