Graduation day for Canberra Grassland Earless Dragons


Following the launch of the Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon breeding facility at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in 2021, 40 dragons have been released into predator free ring tank enclosures as the next step in their return to the wild.

“Australia is facing an extinction crisis. If we are to halt and reverse the damage we’re doing to our natural environment, we must challenge ourselves, and test and trial approaches to tackle extinction rates and re-introduce native fauna back into the wild,” Minister for the Environment, Rebecca Vassarotti said. “Our Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon breeding colony at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is an example of that work.

“The colony consists of 12 breeding adult males and 15 breeding adult females, which resulted in 30 offspring over the last two years. With the addition of 10 offspring from Melbourne Zoo, 40 dragons have been released into custom built enclosures, taking the next step in their eventual reintroduction into the wild.

“These ring tanks are predator proof and have been established to provide controlled areas for ecological and behavioural research. The ring tanks took two years to build and landscape and include 50 artificial burrows in there to mimic natural habitat as well as small water bodies that will attract insects for the dragons to eat. Ecologists will monitor the dragons very closely to ensure they remain health while they reduce the supplementary food and encourage natural hunting.

“Not only are the dragon breeding colonies an ‘insurance population’ to guard against extinction, but they also maintain and improve genetic diversity within the Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon population that will give this critically endangered species a greater chance of survival in the long-term.

“The advantages of genetic diversity include greater potential for disease resistance, drought tolerance and other factors that can help this species survive under different environmental pressures.

“We still have a lot to learn about the species and this program is helping us understand more about their genetics, behaviour, breeding habits and ecology, including complicated relationships with other species such as the Canberra Raspy Cricket and Wolf Spiders. Research on habitat use and interactions with wolf spiders is due to commence in late September.

“I would like to extend my thanks to our project partners Zoos Victoria and the University of Canberra for their roles in reaching today’s important milestone.”

Quotes attributable to University of Canberra Professor Stephen Sarre:

“The establishment of the earless dragon ring tanks at Tidbinbilla will enable behavioural research into the dragons directed at answering the question: what conditions are required to enable the dragons to thrive in Canberra’s grasslands in the face of urbanisation and climate change? 

“The research planned for the ring tanks builds on 17 years of collaboration between the University of Canberra and the ACT Government. These collaborations have seen the establishment, at UC, of the first captive colony of the dragons as well as long-term investigations into the behaviour and genetics of the dragons and the impact of climate change upon them.”

Quotes attributable to Melbourne Zoo Ectotherm Coordinator Rory Keenan:

“Zoos Victoria is proud to collaborate with partners on the release of captive bred Canberra Grassland Earless Dragons from Melbourne Zoo and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve into newly established naturalistic ring tanks at Tidbinbilla. The research planned by students and staff from University of Canberra and the ACT Government, and knowledge gained will assist greatly in future translocation programmes and ultimately the recovery of the species.

“The development of captive husbandry protocols by keepers at the University of Canberra, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and Melbourne Zoo has progressed over the last few years, establishing robust ex-situ populations that will assist in the next steps to recovering wild populations.”