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Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

Written by Patricia Valdez
Illustrations by Felicita Sala

Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones, who turned over teacups and crawled past the crumpets…. While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school!

When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her komodo dragon as the guest of honor.

 

Forgotten women: meet Joan Procter, the amazing dragon doctor

Here’s why Patricia Valdez wrote a children’s book about an incredible female scientist from 100 years ago, who really loved reptiles.

As a scientist and author, I’m always on the lookout for inspiring stories of scientific discovery. Whether we realise it or not, we encounter science every day. It’s unavoidable.

But the stories behind the discoveries are not always known or appreciated. Sometimes you might find a clue, and that clue might lead you to an amazing story.

It all began with Komodos
The clue that led me to Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor started with the National Zoo in Washington D.C.

The Zoo’s Komodo dragon, Murphy, is a favorite of my family. A few years ago, I decided to look up some information about the Western world’s discovery of these animals on the tiny Indonesian island of Komodo. At the very bottom of one of the articles, one sentence jumped out at me.

It stated that Joan Beauchamp Procter was the first person to describe Komodo dragons in captivity in the 1920s. Nothing more about her. Of course, my curiosity was piqued for several reasons: first, women barely had the right to vote in the 1920s; second, women scientists were rare at that time; and third, anyone working with Komodo dragons when the world knew little about them had to be interesting!

The woman who tamed dragons

Joan spent her entire life in London, England, so my research started with subscriptions to British newspapers, including The Times. Though her name was unfamiliar to me and others, Joan was well-loved and well-respected by the scientific community when she lived. Newspapers often ran sensational stories of this young woman who tamed dragons… 

 

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