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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK
Man-eating lizards enter capital
Komodo Dragon at London Zoo
The Komodo Dragon's lethal saliva contains 50 types of bacteria
It has poisonous saliva, eats water buffalo and deer for breakfast and has even been known to devour humans - now Komodo "dragons" have arrived in London.

The giant lizards are being housed at London Zoo in a purpose-built lair as a centrepiece for a breeding programme.

Visitors will be able to see the lethal reptiles through the safety of a 20-metre-long viewing window.

Experts estimate only around 500 breeding females remain in the dragons' natural habitat in Indonesia.

Poaching, habitat loss and disease have all taken their toll.

World's largest lizard
Measures up to 3.1m
Weighs up to 126kg
Numbers estimated at 1,000 to 5,000
Indigenous in Indonesia
Nicknamed 'buaya darat' or land crocodile
London Zoo is now hoping to breed a captive population, in case numbers in the wild drop so low that the dragons are no longer genetically viable. Initially the zoo will have one breeding pair.

The male, Raja, has already settled in after being flown in from a zoo in Miami.

His prospective mate will be arriving shortly from a zoo in the Canary Islands.

If all goes according to plan, London Zoo could be hearing the patter of tiny claws some time in the next year.

Deadly saliva

Richard Gibson, of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), said: "Without conservation efforts to protect them, these giant lizards have a very uncertain future."

In the wild, Komodo dragons are the only lizards capable of hunting and killing prey larger than themselves - such as deer and water buffalo - and can swallow their catch whole.

Their deadly saliva contains more than 50 types of bacteria and they commonly kill by biting at an animal's legs and tendons, leaving it to die of septicaemia.

The ZSL is working in Indonesia to verify new sightings of the lizards and will participate in a captive breeding programme.

Sir David Attenborough will on Monday officially open the dragon lair, which features a replica of a deer carcass. Their lair is already open to the public.

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