Daily Archives: February 18, 2019

Dragons v. Cattle in Indonesia

Is tourism endangering one of the world’s most iconic lizard species? It seemed that way after the unexpected announcement that Komodo National Park in Indonesia, home of the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) may be partly closed to visitors for a full year…

Komodo National Park consists of a group of islands with a total land area of 407 square kilometers. The two largest ones, Komodo and Rinca, are home to Komodo dragon populations and are open to visits by tourists; some 160,000 people came in 2018, most of them foreigners. Tourism has made the Komodo dragons “tame” and less inclined to hunt, according to Viktor Laiskodat, governor of the East Nusa Tenggara province, where the park is located. In addition, rampant poaching has reduced the number of Timor deer (Cervus timorensis), the dragon’s main prey; as a result, the dragons have become smaller in size, Laiskodat recently claimed. To “manage the Komodo dragon’s habitat,” Komodo Island should be closed to visitors for a year, Laiskodat said on 18 January.

And there is no need for the partial shutdown, says Maria Panggur, a scientist in charge of ecosystem monitoring at the park. According to government data, the park was home to a healthy population of more than 2700 Komodo dragons in 2017, more than 1000 of them living on Komodo Island…..Human activity does have some effects on the population. A 2018 study by Purwandana showed that animals exposed to tourism—which get fed—were bigger, healthier, less alert, and had higher chances of survival than dragons elsewhere. But tourists can only visit about 5 square kilometers of the park; 95% of the Komodo dragons are not in contact with them, so the impact is minimal, Panggur says…

“If the governor really wants to protect Komodo dragons, he should start looking at Flores,” the province’s main island, Panggur says. Northern Flores is home to a Komodo dragon population of unknown size that is “more sensitive to extinction,” because of its proximity to humans…There are several reports about people killing dragons because they attacked cattle.The Flores population is considered significant because “it has been historically isolated from the western populations,” Jessop says. A 2011 mitochondrial DNA study…confirmed that they are quite different genetically from the populations on Komodo and Rinca. “Retaining this diversity is extremely important” for the species’s ability to respond to climate and habitat changes, Jessop says.

Excerpts from Dyna Rochmyaningsih Is tourism endangering these giant lizards?, Science, Jan. 29, 2019