Komodo dragon conservation in Indonesia
Komodo Dragons were introduced to ZSL London Zoo as part of the European Conservation Breeding Programme.
Now the ZSL conservation programme has assisted research into the wild population and distribution patterns of this exciting reptile.
Komodo dragons are the world’s largest living lizard and are found predominantly on the islands of Flores, Rinca and of course Komodo in Indonesia. The latter two islands enjoy the protection of lying within the Komodo National Park, but Flores is outside of the park boundaries and as a result the dragons on this island receive only rudimentary protection.
The tiny island of Gili Motang in the south east corner of the National Park has a relatively low density of the dragon’s favourite prey, the Rusa deer. As a result the dragons are not only reduced in number but appear to be physically smaller in stature than their cousins on Rinca and Komodo.
A survey carried out by a team from ZSL, Florence University and the Indonesian Department of Forestry examined an area of coastline in north-eastern Flores.
Though dragons are known from the west coast and from a small area on the western north coast of this much larger and now heavily populated island, the survey area was beyond the known range of the dragon.
Sadly, two weeks of intensive trapping, searching and talking to the local people confirmed that dragons had indeed inhabited the area in the past, perhaps as recently as five years ago, but no evidence of their continued survival could be found.
It is therefore highly probable that the dragons of Flores have suffered a local extinction in this part of the island, apparently due to habitat loss, annual fires set by people to help them flush-out and poach the few remaining deer, and general disturbance of the area by a growing human population.
This sad news is an important wake-up call for the protection of dragons elsewhere in Flores. Fortunately a pilot project has been initiated in west Flores to re-establish the Wae Wuul Nature Reserve.
This long-term project is co-ordinated behalf of a consortium of European zoos who keep dragons in captivity. Together these zoos fund the project combining infrastructural development, social awareness and environmental education programmes, warden patrols and legislative enforcement, and annual dragon population census.
With luck this project may prove to be a model for an expanded programme to protect dragons and their habitat along the entire west coast of Flores, a global biodiversity hotspot supporting countless endemic plants, insects and birds as well as the magnificent Komodo dragon.