Komodo National Park
Komodo National Park is located in the center of the Indonesian archipelago, between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. Established in 1980, initially the main purpose of the Park was to conserve the unique Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) and its habitat. However, over the years, the goals for the Park have expanded to protecting its entire biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine. In 1986, the Park was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, both indications of the Park’s biological importance.
Komodo National Park has been recently been awarded as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
Komodo National Park includes three major islands: Komodo, Rinca and Padar, as well as numerous smaller islands. As well as being home to the Komodo dragon, the Park provides refuge for many other notable terrestrial species such as the orange-footed scrub fowl, an endemic rat, and the Timor deer. Moreover, the Park includes one of the richest marine environments in the world, including coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds, seamounts, and semi-enclosed bays. These habitats harbor more than 1,000 species of fish, some 260 species of reef-building coral, and 70 species of sponges. Dugong, sharks, manta rays, at least 14 species of whales, dolphins, and sea turtles also make Komodo National Park their home.
Threats to terrestrial biodiversity include the increasing pressure on forest cover and water resources as the local human population has increased 800% over the past 60 years. In addition, the Timor deer population, the preferred prey source for the endangered Komodo dragon, is still being poached.
Species: V. komodoensis
POPULATION & LOCATION
Komodo dragons are the worlds largest lizards. They can be found on only four islands Komodo, Rinca, Gili Motang and Nusa Kode – in Komodo National Park, and a handful of small areas of northern and western Flores, just outside the Park. Less than 2500 of these giant lizards inhabit the Parks dramatic landscape, and they do not exist anywhere else on earth. Komodo dragons, which were discovered by western science in 1910, are thought to have once lived over a much larger area. Growing pressure from human activities has reduced their habitats to the small refuges found today. Due to their extremely limited range, the Komodo dragon is considered to be endangered and in need of protection.
A member of the monitor family, the Komodo dragon is one of the oldest living lizards, thought to have originated 50 million years ago in either Asia or Australia. There are varying theories as to how it found its way to the Indonesian archipelago. Some scientists believe that dragons crossed from Australia to Southeast Asia around 15 million years ago, when the two continents collided, forming the highlands of New Guinea. Periods of low sea level would have allowed the dragons ancestors to migrate westward-. Komodo dragons are thought to have differentiated from their Varanus ancestors around four million years ago, extending their range into the eastern islands of Indonesia. Changing sea levels associated with ice ages could have isolated them in their present location.
Komodo dragons owe their outsize proportions to the fact that there are no other large predators to compete with in the isolated area in which they occur. The phenomenon is known as island gigantism. The largest recorded specimen was an impressive 3.13 meters (10 feet 2 inches) in length; large dragons usually weigh up to 90 kg (198 pounds). The largest Komodo dragon ever measured weighed 165.9 kilograms (365 pounds), including undigested food. Female Komodo dragons rarely grow over 2.5 meters (7 feet 6 inches) in length. Scientists believe that Komodo dragons can live up to 50 years, maybe longer.
Female Komodo dragons start mating when they are seven years old, males when they are eight. The mating season is generally from July to August, although mating behaviors have been observed during other months as well, usually during the dry season. Female’s lay 15 to 30 eggs at a time.The average number of eggs is about 18 per clutch, with one clutch per year. The dragons often lay their eggs in a burrow, sometimes using the ready-made mounds of the megapode (scrub fowl) as added protection. The female digs several false tunnels so that predators cannot easily find her eggs. The eggs incubate for eight to nine months, though the mother only guards them for a total of about three months. The eggs are about the size of swan eggs and have soft and leathery shells. They usually hatch in March or April.
On average, a newborn dragon is just 30.4 cm in length, though this can vary from 28 cm to 55 cm. The average weight is just 80.3 grams. Young dragons look very similar to small monitor lizards. They have yellow spots and dark markings on their bodies that eventually disappear as they grow older. Young dragons that are up to two years of age spend most of their time in trees to protect themselves from being eaten by larger dragons or other predators such as wild boar. The markings make excellent camouflage against tree trunks and leaves, for young dragons must fend for themselves after they are born. Young dragons usually eat other small lizards, eggs, rats, snakes, and insects that live in trees, stumps and logs.
Komodo dragons can see well (around 300 metres in daylight) and have reasonably good hearing too, but they rely mostly on smell. They use their tongue to detect scents and smells by picking up chemical particles in the air and ground, and then putting them in their Jacobson’s organ, a kind of super nose located on the roof of their mouth. Dragons can detect specific scents up to five kilometers away. However, they can smell up to 11km away depending on the direction of the wind.
DIET & HUNTING
Komodo dragons are carnivorous and not very particular about their meat. The adults mainly prey on deer and wild boar and sometimes other Komodo dragons. If they can, they will hunt water buffalo, palm civets, rats, and birds. They will also eat domestic animals like dogs, chickens and goats. Occasionally they will eat snakes, sea turtle eggs and monkeys. Komodo dragons prefer to eat animals that are already dead (carrion). They reject all plant matter, strictly eating meat in any form. When roused, Komodo dragons can run up to 18 km/h for short bursts, though usually they run at a slower pace of 8-10km/h. Dragons can swim at least 500 metres, but become sluggish in the water because their body temperature cools down.
When hunting, Komodo dragons usually attack sleeping animals or wait in ambush. If they cannot kill prey immediately, they will try to bite the animal on the leg or on the throat. Later, they will follow and wait for the animal to weaken and die before they eat it. Komodo dragon’s saliva is not poisonous, but it is highly septic. There are over 60 types of bacteria in the dragon’s saliva and at least one of them can cause septicemia. After being bitten, the prey can take a day to a couple of weeks to die from blood poisoning.
Dragons have small, sharp, curved teeth for grasping and ripping – they can eat up to 80 percent of their own body weight at one time. Researchers have witnessed a 42 kg dragon eat a 30 kg boar in just 17 minutes. Dragons eat almost everything, leaving behind only 8-13% of the carcass. Dragons eat whenever there is an opportunity – if there is no prey, they will scavenge and they usually eat or kill about once a month. They can, however, go without eating for several weeks.
The droppings of a Komodo dragon are white due to the presence of uric acid. All reptiles and birds have this in their droppings as well. Their droppings usually contain no water since the dragons body will try and conserve all water in their body, especially during the dry season when water is scarce. Dragons need to drink water, but not often. They drink a lot when it is available, but this is very little in the dry season from April to November. Dragons can get 70% of their water requirement from their prey.
PEOPLE AND DRAGONS
Komodo dragons have no natural predators, but deer poachers are their biggest threat. Timor deer are an essential part of the dragon’s diet and the prey/predator balance is critical for the Komodo dragon to survive. Dragons are thought to have attacked at least ten people and eaten one in the 1970’s. The Komodo dragons are no longer fed as it was felt that they were relying too heavily on humans and diverging from their natural patterns of behavior.