Singapore, 17 June 2010 – The Singapore Zoo, one of the four wildlife parks managed by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), including the first river-themed attraction River Safari, has made veterinary history by undertaking Vacuum Assisted Closure® Therapy on a reptile in captivity. Yoko, one of the Zoo’s three komodo dragons, recently became the first reptile to receive a breakthrough treatment commonly used to promote wound healing in humans.

Yoko, the proud mother of the Zoo’s first successfully hatched Komodo dragon bred in Asia, outside of native Indonesia, had sustained a 16cm injury to her back while incubating a second batch of eggs last November. While laying her eggs in an underground burrow, Yoko wedged herself in a crevice of the cave and as a result, sustained abrasions to her dorsal or spinal region. The damaged tissue surrounding the injury started to degenerate and slough off leaving an open wound that was exposed to possible infection.

A team of experts at the Zoo’s Wildlife Healthcare and Research Centre, including surgeons from the Department of Hand & Reconstructive Microsurgery and the Division of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery, National University Hospital (NUH), vets and keepers, was quickly mobilised to treat Yoko.

Said Dr Serena Oh, Assistant Director, Veterinary, WRS: “We kept infection at bay with daily manuka honey dressings and antibiotics. A major challenge was the nature of the Komodo dragon’s skin. It does not have a subcutaneous layer of tissue that lies immediately below the top layer of vertebrate skin that would allow us to create a local skin flap to cover the wound. We needed a solution to generate tissue growth quickly with zero risk of infection”.

After consultation with several medical experts in the region, the team decided to use the V.A.C. Therapy System from KCI. Vacuum Assisted Closure®, or V.A.C.® Therapy has been clinically proven to treat serious or complex wounds through the use of negative pressure. The negative pressure creates a unique wound healing environment that has been shown to promote the wound healing process, reduce edema, prepare the wound bed for closure, promote the formation of granulation tissue and remove infectious materials.

According to Dr Lee Shu Jin, Consultant, Division of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery at NUH treating Yoko, V.A.C.® Therapy has been used worldwide to treat over 3 million human patients, but this was the first time it had been used on a reptile, particularly a Komodo dragon. She said: “Reptiles normally heal very slowly but we are very happy to report that Yoko made great progress in her recovery with V.A.C.® Therapy. She was also eating and moving normally throughout the entire process.”

Ms Fanny Lai, WRS Group CEO, said, “The successful treatment of Yoko was a result of teamwork between our veterinary and consultant expertise and the keepers. It was also made possible with our excellent clinical facilities at the Wildlife Healthcare and Research Centre. The veterinary team is responsible for the health of almost 4,000 animals at Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. Our demonstrated capabilities in wildlife medical treatment put us in the lead as a regional centre of excellence for wildlife veterinary healthcare and research in conserving global biodiversity.”

As part of an on-going tripartite collaboration between the Singapore Zoo, Lisbon Zoo in Portugal and Ueno Zoo in Japan, the Singapore Zoo is expecting yet another successful Komodo dragon hatching. On 11 November last year, the Zoo collected another viable egg that was laid by Yoko. The incubation period of Komodo dragons is usually nine months. The recent viable egg collected is likely to hatch sometime in August this year.

Meanwhile, the first young Komodo dragon, which hatched on 15 November 2009, is now close to seven months old. It is approximately 50cm in length, which is five times its size at birth. Weaned on a diet of pinkies (young mice), the little dragon’s diet is gradually changing to include small furred mice and strips of beef dusted with calcium.

An injured Yoko
The V.A.C.® in action

Yoko is almost healed

The Komodo dragon hatchling at 5 months old