Fun at the Zoo

The Dragons of Sydney Project with the YATZ Students by Cole Neder

Cole Neder goes to Augustana College near Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. As part of his 8-week study abroad program with CAPA International, he is assisting the National Parks Association of NSW with their Native Forest Logging Campaign. Majoring in Political Science and Communication Studies, Cole plans to advocate for environmental lobbying firms in Washington, D.C. in the future.

On Wednesday, I had the privilege of joining the Dragons of Sydney Project and the YATZ (Youth At The Zoo) volunteers on their citizen science project through Taronga Zoo. This was the final week of the kids summer break before school started up again, and they were spending it cleaning up the zoo and researching the Eastern Water Dragons!

Dragons of Sydney is a citizen science project carried out by the National Parks Association of NSW, in collaboration with Macquarie University PhD student, James Baxter-Gilbert, that aims to help Eastern Water Dragons by highlighting their role in the environment and the threats to their survival at a series of events for local school and community groups. At this specific workshop, the YATZ volunteers were studying how the Water Dragons were reacting to living in an environment with a large amount of human traffic.


YATZ members spy an Eastern Water Dragon off the path at Taronga Zoo. Photo credit: Cole Neder

As our group leader, James, approached the Water Dragons in different areas of the zoo, the students had the opportunity to analyse their retreat patterns, determine whether or not the Dragon was a male, female, or juvenile, and properly document this information for further study. This project allowed the youth to not only get up close to the Water Dragons, but also learn more about their habitats in relation to human interference.

As the day went on, the YATZ kids remained incredibly interested in the Water Dragons and the other animals at the zoo. They asked intuitive questions and seemed genuinely intrigued about the different wildlife they came across. Since I was introduced as the intern, they also asked me different questions about where I was from, what it was like to live in the United States, what college was like, and what I was involved in back at home.

It quickly became clear that these youth were smart, respectful, and most importantly, full of curiosity. Their interest in this citizen science project showed how important these experiences are to youth across Australia. These students were not only assisting in developing a better understanding of a species that has had to adapt to increased human interaction, but they were also gaining an important appreciation to how important the environment is to all different kinds of animals.


YATZ volunteers carefully recording data about the behavioural response of the Taronga Zoo Eastern Water Dragon population to human movement. These data will be compared to the data collected at other sites which differ in their levels of urbanisation. Photo credit: Cole Neder

A positive and educated relationship with the environment is incredibly important for today’s youth, and the Dragons of Sydney project, along with other citizen science projects, provides local students with just that.

The YATZ students finished the workshop that day, but their project is far from finished. The students submitted their research and, within a couple weeks, they will receive the results of their hard work, seeing how their contributions made an immediate and positive change to the environment.


James Baxter-Gilbert (top row – far left) and Cole Neder (top row-far right) with the amazing YATZ volunteers who collected and recorded data on 17 Water Dragons. 

The Dragons Among Us

Contributed by: James Baxter-Gilbert (PhD Student from Macquarie University, NSW)

The Australian Water dragon (Intellagama lesueurii) is a large lizard species common along the eastern coast of Australian ranging from Queensland to Victoria. There are two subspecies described: the Eastern Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii lesueurii) living in the northern extent of the range, and the Gippsland Water Dragon (Intellagama lesueurii howittii) living in the south1.  The males of this species are larger in size and will defend a territory, displaying a bright red chest coupled with head-bobbing and arm-waving to communicate to other males to stay away. Females will regularly mate with multiple males to ensure genetic diversity of her eggs; a single clutch of eggs may have 2-3 different fathers2 divided between 6-18 eggs. Continue reading “The Dragons Among Us”

Threats to Eastern Water Dragons


Clean water is vital for the survival of Water Dragons as they use it to hide from predators, sleep at night and regulate their body temperature. Littering threatens Dragon habitat by affecting the quality of both their land and water habitats. Plastic bags and bottles are particularly hazardous to juvenile Water Dragons who become entangled or trapped within them. In addition, litter releases pollutants as it breaks down which can make land and water sources toxic for animals to live and forage in. You can help by taking your rubbish home with you or collecting any litter you see when you’re in a protected area. Continue reading “Threats to Eastern Water Dragons”