The Komodo National Park is a national park in Indonesia located within the Lesser Sunda Islands in the border region between the provinces of East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara. The park includes the three larger islands Komodo, Padar and Rinca, and 26 smaller ones, with a total area of 1,733 km2 (603 km2 of it land). The national park was founded in 1980 to protect the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard. Later it was dedicated to protecting other species, including marine species. In 1991 the national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Komodo National Park has been selected as one of the New7Wonders of Nature. The waters surrounding Komodo island also contains rich marine biodiversity. Komodo islands is also a part of the Coral Triangle, which contains one of the richest marine biodiversity on earth.
Komodo is one of the 17,508 islands that compose the Republic of Indonesia. The island is particularly notable as the habitat of the Komodo dragon, the largest lizard on Earth, which is named after the island. Komodo Island has a surface area of 390 square kilometres and a human population of over two thousand.
Komodo island has a human population of over two thousand. The people of the island are descendants of former convicts who were exiled to the island and who have mixed with Bugis from Sulawesi. The people are primarily adherents of Islam but there are also Christian and Hindu congregations. Administratively, it is part of the East Nusa Tenggara province. The island is also a popular destination for diving and it has been included into the controversial New7Wonders of Nature list since November 11, 2011.
Komodo National Park was established in 1980 and was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1991. The park was initially established to conserve the unique Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), first discovered by the scientific world in 1912 by J.K.H. Van Steyn. Since then conservation goals have expanded to protecting its entire biodiversity, both marine and terrestrial.
The majority of the people in and around the park are fishermen originally from Bima (Sumbawa), Manggarai, South Flores, and South Sulawesi. Those from South Sulawesi are from the Suku Bajau or Bugis ethnic groups. The Suku Bajau were originally nomadic and moved from location to location in the region of Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara and Maluku, to make their livelihoods. Descendants of the original people of Komodo, the Ata Modo, still live in Komodo, but there are no pure blood people left and their culture and language is slowly being integrated with the recent migrants.
Little is known of the early history of the Komodo islanders. They were subjects of the Sultanate of Bima, although the island’s remoteness from Bima meant its affairs were probably little troubled by the Sultanate other than by occasional demand for tribute.
Geography and climate
The park comprises a coastal section of western Flores, the three larger islands of Komodo, Padar and Rinca, 26 smaller islands and the surrounding waters of the Sape Straights. The islands of the national park are of volcanic origin. The terrain is generally rugged, characterized by rounded hills, with altitudes up to 735 m. The climate is one of the driest of Indonesia with annual rainfall between 800mm and 1000mm. Mean daily temperatures in the dry season from May to October are around 40 °C.
Flora and fauna
The hot and dry climate of the park, characterized by savannah vegetation, makes it to a good habitat for the endemic Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis). Their populations are restricted to the islands of Komodo (1,700), Rinca (1,300), Gili Motang (100), Gili Dasami (100), and Flores (c. 2,000), while extinct on Padar.
Cloud forests appear only in few areas above 500 metres but they provide habitat to several endemic flora. Coastal vegetation includes mangrove forest, which generally appear in the sheltered bays of the three larger islands.
Fringing and patch coral reefs are extensive and best developed on the north-east coast of Komodo. The park is rich in marine life, including whale sharks, ocean sunfish, manta rays, eagle rays, pygmy seahorse, false pipefish, clown frogfish, nudibranchs, blue-ringed octopus, sponges, tunicates, and coral.
Varieties of cetaceans inhabit in adjacent waters from smaller sized dolphins to sperm whales and even blue whales. Omura’s whales, one of the least known of rorquals have been confirmed to range waters within the park. Endangered dugongs still live in Komodo areas as well.
The terrestrial fauna is of rather poor diversity in comparison to the marine fauna. The number of terrestrial animal species found in the park is not high, but the area is important from a conservation perspective as some species are endemic. Many of the mammals are Asiatic in origin Including the Timor deer, wild boar, water buffalo, crab eating macaques and civet. Several of the reptiles and birds are Australian in origin. These include the orange-footed scrubfowl, the lesser sulpher crested cockatoo, and the helmeted friarbird.
The most famous of Komodo National Park’s reptiles is the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis). It is the world’s largest lizard and is among the world’s largest reptiles and can reach 3m or more in length and weigh over 70 kg.
Twelve terrestrial snake species are found on the island in addition to marine species. Snakes include the Javan spitting cobra (Naja sputatrix), Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii), white-lipped pit viper (Trimeresurus albolabris), blue lipped sea krait (Laticauda laticaudata), and Timor python (Python timoriensis). Lizards include nine skink species (Scinidae), geckos (Gekkonidae), limbless lizards (Dibamidae), and the monitor lizards such as the Komodo dragon (Varanidae). Frogs include the Asian bullfrog (Kaloula baleata), the endemic Komodo cross frog (Oreophryne jeffersoniana) and Oreophryne darewskyi. Frogs are typically found at higher, moister altitudes. The saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) was once present within the park in coastal areas including mangrove swamps but is extinct within the area.
Mammals found within the park include the Timor rusa deer (Cervus timorensis), the main prey of the Komodo dragon, horses (Equus sp.), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), wild boar (Sus scrofa vittatus), crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis), Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus lehmanni), the endemic Rinca rat (Rattus rintjanus), and fruit bats. Domestic mammals on within the park include goats, cats and dogs which are feral.
One of the main bird species is the orange-footed scrubfowl (Megapodius reinwardti), a ground dwelling bird. In areas of savanna, 27 species were observed. The zebra dove (Geopelia striata) and spotted dove (Spilopelia chinensis) were the most common species. In mixed tropical deciduous habitat, 28 bird species were observed, and helmeted friarbird (Philemon buceroides), green imperial pigeon (Ducula aenea), and lemon-bellied white-eye (Zosterops chloris) were the most common. Other birds include vibrantly coloured species such as green junglefowl (Gallus varius), great-billed parrot (Tanygnathus megalorynchos), and the critically endangered lesser sulpher crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea). Two eagle species are found in the park, the white-bellied sea eagle and the extremely rare Flores hawk-eagle which is present on Rinca and Flores and reported but unconfirmed on Komodo Island.
The island of Padar and part of Rinca were established as nature reserves in 1938. Komodo Island was declared a nature reserve in 1965, and in January 1977 as a biosphere reserve under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme. The three islands were declared a national park in 1980, which was later extended to include the surrounding marine area and a section of Flores in 1984. In 1991 the national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Since 1995, the national park authority has been supported by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an American environmental organization. A new management plan was co-authored with TNC and implemented in 2000 to address the problem of increasing resource exploitation, both marine and terrestrial. Most pressure on marine resources originates from fishing communities and commercial enterprises from outside the park. However, regulations and restrictions on resource use impact mostly on park residents, who have few options to make a living but rely on what the park has to offer. The provision of alternative livelihoods is part of the overall management strategy, but communities within the park are yet to benefit from appropriate measures addressing their needs.
After 5 years operation, in 2010 Putri Naga Komodo’s (PNK) permit was yanked. PNK was a nonprofit joint venture company partially funded by the TNC and the World Bank to operate tourist facilities in hopes of eventually making the park financially self-sustaining. After the moment more illegal fishermen came due to enforcement declined greatly following the exit of TNC that helped fight destructive fishing practices. In early 2012, dive operators and conservationists found many desolate coral sites, reminiscent of grey moonscapes. Illegal fishermen are blasting sites with ‘bombs’ in a process known as blast fishing. The fisherman use fertilizer and kerosene mixed in beer bottles as explosives or use squeeze bottles to squirt cyanide into the coral to stun and capture fish. In the past two years more than 60 illegal fishermen have been arrested and even one of the suspects was shot and killed after the fishermen tried to escape by throwing fish bombs at the rangers.
There are presently almost 4,000 inhabitants living within the park spread out over four settlements (Komodo, Rinca, Kerora, and Papagaran). All villages existed prior to 1980 before the area was declared a national park. In 1928 there were only 30 people living in Komodo Village, and approximately 250 people on Rinca Island in 1930. The population increased rapidly, and by 1999, there were 281 families numbering 1,169 people on Komodo, meaning that the local population had increased exponentially. Komodo Village has had the highest population increase of the villages within the park, mostly due to migration by people from Sape, Manggarai, Madura, and South Sulawesi. The number of buildings in Kampung Komodo has increased rapidly from 30 houses in 1958, to 194 houses in 1994, and 270 houses in 2000. Papagaran village is similar in size, with 258 families totaling 1,078 people. At the 2010 Census, Komodo village had 1,508 inhabitants and Papagaran village had 1,262 inhabitants. As of 1999, Rinca’s population was 835, and Kerora’s population was 185 people. The total population currently living in the park is 3,267 people, while 16,816 people live in the area immediately surrounding the park.
The average level of education in the villages of Komodo National Park is grade four of elementary school. There is an elementary school located in each of the villages, but new students are not recruited each year. On average, each village has four classes and four teachers. Most of the children from the small islands in the Kecamatan Komodo (Komodo, Rinca, Kerora, Papagaran, Mesa) do not finish elementary school. Less than 10% of those who do graduate from elementary school continue to high school since the major economic opportunity (fishing) does not require further education. Children must be sent to Labuan Bajo to attend high school, but this is rarely done in fishermen’s families.
Most of the villages located in and around the park have few fresh water facilities available, if any, particularly during the dry season. Water quality declines during this time period and many people become ill. Malaria and diarrhea are rampant in the area. On Mesa island, with a population of around 1,500 people, there is no fresh water available. Fresh water is brought by boat in jerrycans from Labuan Bajo. Each family needs an average of Rp 100,000.- per month to buy fresh water (2000). Almost every village has a local medical facility with staff, and at least a paramedic. The quality of medical care facilities is low.
Socio-cultural and anthropologic conditions
Traditional Customs: Traditional communities in Komodo, Flores and Sumbawa have been subjected to outside influences and the influence of traditional customs is dwindling. Television, radio, and increased mobility have all played a part in accelerating the rate of change. There has been a steady influx of migrants into the area. At the moment nearly all villages consist of more than one ethnic group.
The majority of fishermen living in the villages in the vicinity of the park are Muslims. Hajis have a strong influence in the dynamics of community development. Fishermen hailing from South Sulawesi (Bajau, Bugis) and Bima are mostly Muslims. The community from Manggarai are mostly Christians.
Anthropology and language
There are several cultural sites within the park, particularly on Komodo Island. These sites are not well documented, however, and there are many questions concerning the history of human inhabitance on the island. Outside the park, in Warloka village on Flores, there is a Chinese trading post remnant of some interest. Archeological finds from this site have been looted in the recent past. Most communities in and around the park can speak Indonesian. Bajo language is the language used for daily communication in most communities.
Scuba diving is popular because of the park’s high marine biodiversity. The development of, largely marine-based, ecotourism is the main strategy to make the park self-financing and generate sufficient revenue through entrance fees and tourism licenses to cover operational and managerial costs. To this end, a joint venture between TNC and a tourism operator were granted a tourism concession, that also entails extensive park management rights. This concession has generated an ongoing controversy. The joint venture has been accused of making decisions behind closed doors, and many people in and around Komodo claim that they haven’t been consulted regarding decisions that ultimately affect their lives.
Komodo Island and Rinca were once part of Flores and they are separated from the large Island of Sumbawa to the West by the Sape Strait. The ocean in the Strait drops hundreds of meters. The Pacific Ocean to the north and the Indian ocean to the south are actually at different heights – so the flow of currents from the Pacific to the Indian during tidal exchanges makes the currents among the strongest in the world. In the (relatively) shallow waters along the east coast of Komodo towards Labaun Bajo, these currents can be extremely dangerous with inexperienced guides.
The number of visitors to the park increased from 36,000 in 2009 to 45,000 in 2010. Most of the visitors were foreign tourists as the high transport cost to this remote location is less affordable for local visitors. The park can accommodate up to 60,000 visitors a year according to the local tourism agency.
Several types of boat tours run through the national park including upscale scuba liveaboards, short daily snorkel trips and 4 day, 3 night ‘tourist boats’ between Lombok and Flores. The tourist boats run very frequently, but have uncertain safety records. In an August 2014 incident one of these tourist boats sank, and 2 tourists were lost. Strong currents and waves separated the stranded passengers and crew who were floating a sea in lifevests.
The Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)
The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), also known as the Komodo monitor, is a large species of lizard found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Padar. A member of the monitor lizard family Varanidae, it is the largest living species of lizard, growing to a maximum length of 3 metres (10 ft) in rare cases and weighing up to approximately 70 kilograms (150 lb).
Their unusually large size has been attributed to island gigantism, since no other carnivorous animals fill the niche on the islands where they live. However, recent research suggests the large size of Komodo dragons may be better understood as representative of a relict population of very large varanid lizards that once lived across Indonesia and Australia, most of which, along with other megafauna, died out after the Pleistocene. Fossils very similar to V. komodoensis have been found in Australia dating to greater than 3.8 million years ago, and its body size remained stable on Flores, one of the handful of Indonesian islands where it is currently found, over the last 900,000 years, “a time marked by major faunal turnovers, extinction of the island’s megafauna, and the arrival of early hominids by 880 ka [kiloannums].”
As a result of their size, these lizards dominate the ecosystems in which they live. Komodo dragons hunt and ambush prey including invertebrates, birds, and mammals. It has been claimed that they have a venomous bite; there are two glands in the lower jaw which secrete several toxic proteins. The biological significance of these proteins is disputed, but the glands have been shown to secrete an anticoagulant. Komodo dragon group behaviour in hunting is exceptional in the reptile world. The diet of big Komodo dragons mainly consists of deer, though they also eat considerable amounts of carrion.Komodo dragons also occasionally attack humans.
Mating begins between May and August, and the eggs are laid in September. About 20 eggs are deposited in abandoned megapode nests or in a self-dug nesting hole. The eggs are incubated for seven to eight months, hatching in April, when insects are most plentiful. Young Komodo dragons are vulnerable and therefore dwell in trees, safe from predators and cannibalistic adults. They take 8 to 9 years to mature, and are estimated to live up to 30 years.
Komodo dragons were first recorded by Western scientists in 1910. Their large size and fearsome reputation make them popular zoo exhibits. In the wild, their range has contracted due to human activities, and they are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. They are protected under Indonesian law, and a national park, Komodo National Park, was founded to aid protection efforts.
The Komodo dragon is also known as the Komodo monitor or the Komodo Island monitor in scientific literature, although this is not very common. To the natives of Komodo Island, it is referred to as ora, buaya darat (land crocodile), or biawak raksasa (giant monitor).
The evolutionary development of the Komodo dragon started with the Varanus genus, which originated in Asia about 40 million years ago and migrated to Australia. Around 15 million years ago, a collision between Australia and Southeast Asia allowed the varanids to move into what is now the Indonesian archipelago, extending their range as far east as the island of Timor. The Komodo dragon was believed to have differentiated from its Australian ancestors 4 million years ago. However, recent fossil evidence from Queensland suggests the Komodo dragon evolved in Australia before spreading to Indonesia. Dramatic lowering of sea level during the last glacial period uncovered extensive stretches of continental shelf that the Komodo dragon colonised, becoming isolated in their present island range as sea levels rose afterwards.
In the wild, an adult Komodo dragon usually weighs around 70 kg (150 lb), although captive specimens often weigh more. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, an average adult male will weigh 79 to 91 kg (174 to 201 lb) and measure 2.59 m (8.5 ft), while an average female will weigh 68 to 73 kg (150 to 161 lb) and measure 2.29 m (7.5 ft). The largest verified wild specimen was 3.13 m (10.3 ft) long and weighed 166 kg (366 lb), including undigested food. The Komodo dragon has a tail as long as its body, as well as about 60 frequently replaced, serrated teeth that can measure up to 2.5 cm (1 in) in length. Its saliva is frequently blood-tinged, because its teeth are almost completely covered by gingival tissue that is naturally lacerated during feeding. It also has a long, yellow, deeply forked tongue. Komodo dragon skin is reinforced by armoured scales, which contain tiny bones called osteoderms that function as a sort of natural chain-mail. This rugged hide makes Komodo dragon skin poorly suited for making into leather.
As with other varanids, Komodo dragons have only a single ear bone, the stapes, for transferring vibrations from the tympanic membrane to the cochlea. This arrangement means they are likely restricted to sounds in the 400 to 2,000 hertz range, compared to humans who hear between 20 and 20,000 hertz. It was formerly thought to be deaf when a study reported no agitation in wild Komodo dragons in response to whispers, raised voices, or shouts. This was disputed when London Zoological Garden employee Joan Proctor trained a captive specimen to come out to feed at the sound of her voice, even when she could not be seen.
The Komodo dragon can see objects as far away as 300 m (980 ft), but because its retinas only contain cones, it is thought to have poor night vision. The Komodo dragon is able to see in colour, but has poor visual discrimination of stationary objects.
The Komodo dragon uses its tongue to detect, taste, and smell stimuli, as with many other reptiles, with the vomeronasal sense using the Jacobson’s organ, rather than using the nostrils. With the help of a favorable wind and its habit of swinging its head from side to side as it walks, a Komodo dragon may be able to detect carrion from 4–9.5 km (2.5–5.9 mi) away. It only has a few taste buds in the back of its throat. Its scales, some of which are reinforced with bone, have sensory plaques connected to nerves to facilitate its sense of touch. The scales around the ears, lips, chin, and soles of the feet may have three or more sensory plaques.
Behaviour and Ecology
The Komodo dragon prefers hot and dry places, and typically lives in dry, open grassland, savanna, and tropical forest at low elevations. As an ectotherm, it is most active in the day, although it exhibits some nocturnal activity. Komodo dragons are solitary, coming together only to breed and eat. They are capable of running rapidly in brief sprints up to 20 km/h (12 mph), diving up to 4.5 m (15 ft), and climbing trees proficiently when young through use of their strong claws. To catch out-of-reach prey, the Komodo dragon may stand on its hind legs and use its tail as a support. As it matures, its claws are used primarily as weapons, as its great size makes climbing impractical.
For shelter, the Komodo dragon digs holes that can measure from 1 to 3 m (3.3 to 9.8 ft) wide with its powerful forelimbs and claws. Because of its large size and habit of sleeping in these burrows, it is able to conserve body heat throughout the night and minimise its basking period the morning after. The Komodo dragon hunts in the afternoon, but stays in the shade during the hottest part of the day. These special resting places, usually located on ridges with cool sea breezes, are marked with droppings and are cleared of vegetation. They serve as strategic locations from which to ambush deer.
Komodo dragons are carnivores. Although they eat mostly carrion, they will also ambush live prey with a stealthy approach. When suitable prey arrives near a dragon’s ambush site, it will suddenly charge at the animal and go for the underside or the throat. It is able to locate its prey using its keen sense of smell, which can locate a dead or dying animal from a range of up to 9.5 km (5.9 mi). Komodo dragons have been observed knocking down large pigs and deer with their strong tails.
Komodo dragons eat by tearing large chunks of flesh and swallowing them whole while holding the carcass down with their forelegs. For smaller prey up to the size of a goat, their loosely articulated jaws, flexible skulls, and expandable stomachs allow them to swallow prey whole. The vegetable contents of the stomach and intestines are typically avoided. Copious amounts of red saliva the Komodo dragons produce help to lubricate the food, but swallowing is still a long process (15–20 minutes to swallow a goat). A Komodo dragon may attempt to speed up the process by ramming the carcass against a tree to force it down its throat, sometimes ramming so forcefully, the tree is knocked down. A small tube under the tongue that connects to the lungs allows it to breathe while swallowing. After eating up to 80% of its body weight in one meal, it drags itself to a sunny location to speed digestion, as the food could rot and poison the dragon if left undigested for too long. Because of their slow metabolism, large dragons can survive on as few as 12 meals a year. After digestion, the Komodo dragon regurgitates a mass of horns, hair, and teeth known as the gastric pellet, which is covered in malodorous mucus. After regurgitating the gastric pellet, it rubs its face in the dirt or on bushes to get rid of the mucus, suggesting it does not relish the scent of its own excretions.
The largest animals eat first, while the smaller ones follow a hierarchy. The largest male asserts his dominance and the smaller males show their submission by use of body language and rumbling hisses. Dragons of equal size may resort to “wrestling”. Losers usually retreat, though they have been known to be killed and eaten by victors.
The Komodo dragon’s diet is wide-ranging, and includes invertebrates, other reptiles (including smaller Komodo dragons), birds, bird eggs, small mammals, monkeys, wild boar, goats, deer, horses, and water buffalo. Young Komodos will eat insects, eggs, geckos, and small mammals. Occasionally, they attack and bite humans (see first paragraphs of this article). Sometimes they consume human corpses, digging up bodies from shallow graves. This habit of raiding graves caused the villagers of Komodo to move their graves from sandy to clay ground and pile rocks on top of them to deter the lizards. The Komodo dragon may have evolved to feed on the extinct dwarf elephant Stegodon that once lived on Flores, according to evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond.
The Komodo dragon drinks by sucking water into its mouth via buccal pumping (a process also used for respiration), lifting its head, and letting the water run down its throat.
Although previous studies proposed that Komodo dragon saliva contains a variety of highly septic bacteria that would help to bring down prey, research in 2013 suggested that the bacteria in the mouths of Komodo dragons are ordinary and similar to those found in other carnivores. They actually have surprisingly good mouth hygiene. As Bryan Fry put it: “After they are done feeding, they will spend 10 to 15 minutes lip-licking and rubbing their head in the leaves to clean their mouth… Unlike people have been led to believe, they do not have chunks of rotting flesh from their meals on their teeth, cultivating bacteria.” The observation of prey dying of sepsis would then be explained by the natural instinct of water buffalos, who are not native to the islands where the Komodo dragon lives, to run into water when attacked. The warm, faeces-filled water would then cause the infections. The study used samples from 16 captive dragons (10 adults and six neonates) from three U.S. zoos.
In late 2005, researchers at the University of Melbourne speculated the perentie (Varanus giganteus), other species of monitors, and agamids may be somewhat venomous. The team believes the immediate effects of bites from these lizards were caused by mild envenomation. Bites on human digits by a lace monitor (V. varius), a Komodo dragon, and a spotted tree monitor (V. scalaris) all produced similar effects: rapid swelling, localised disruption of blood clotting, and shooting pain up to the elbow, with some symptoms lasting for several hours.
In 2009, the same researchers published further evidence demonstrating Komodo dragons possess a venomous bite. MRI scans of a preserved skull showed the presence of two glands in the lower jaw. The researchers extracted one of these glands from the head of a terminally ill dragon in the Singapore Zoological Gardens, and found it secreted several different toxic proteins. The known functions of these proteins include inhibition of blood clotting, lowering of blood pressure, muscle paralysis, and the induction of hypothermia, leading to shock and loss of consciousness in envenomated prey. As a result of the discovery, the previous theory that bacteria were responsible for the deaths of Komodo victims was disputed.
Other scientists have stated that this allegation of venom glands “has had the effect of underestimating the variety of complex roles played by oral secretions in the biology of reptiles, produced a very narrow view of oral secretions and resulted in misinterpretation of reptilian evolution”. According to these scientists “reptilian oral secretions contribute to many biological roles other than to quickly dispatch prey”. These researchers concluded that, “Calling all in this clade venomous implies an overall potential danger that does not exist, misleads in the assessment of medical risks, and confuses the biological assessment of squamate biochemical systems”. Evolutionary biologist Schwenk says that even if the lizards have venom-like proteins in their mouths they may be using them for a different function, and he doubts venom is necessary to explain the effect of a Komodo dragon bite, arguing that shock and blood loss are the primary factors.
Mating occurs between May and August, with the eggs laid in September. During this period, males fight over females and territory by grappling with one another upon their hind legs, with the loser eventually being pinned to the ground. These males may vomit or defecate when preparing for the fight. The winner of the fight will then flick his long tongue at the female to gain information about her receptivity. Females are antagonistic and resist with their claws and teeth during the early phases of courtship. Therefore, the male must fully restrain the female during coitus to avoid being hurt. Other courtship displays include males rubbing their chins on the female, hard scratches to the back, and licking. Copulation occurs when the male inserts one of his hemipenes into the female’s cloaca. Komodo dragons may be monogamous and form “pair bonds”, a rare behavior for lizards.
Female Komodos lay their eggs from August to September and may use several types of locality; in one study, 60% laid their eggs in the nests of orange-footed scrubfowl (a moundbuilder or megapode), 20% on ground level and 20% in hilly areas. The females make many camouflage nests/holes to prevent other dragons from eating the eggs. Clutches contain an average of 20 eggs, which have an incubation period of 7–8 months. Hatching is an exhausting effort for the neonates, which break out of their eggshells with an egg tooth that falls off soon after. After cutting themselves out, the hatchlings may lie in their eggshells for hours before starting to dig out of the nest. They are born quite defenseless and are vulnerable to predation. Sixteen youngsters from a single nest were on average 46.5 cm long and weighed 105.1 grams.
Young Komodo dragons spend much of their first few years in trees, where they are relatively safe from predators, including cannibalistic adults, as juvenile dragons make up 10% of their diets. The habit of cannibalism may be advantageous in sustaining the large size of adults, as medium-sized prey on the islands is rare. When the young approach a kill, they roll around in faecal matter and rest in the intestines of eviscerated animals to deter these hungry adults. Komodo dragons take approximately 8 to 9 years to mature, and may live for up to 30 years.
A Komodo dragon at London Zoo named Sungai laid a clutch of eggs in late 2005 after being separated from male company for more than two years. Scientists initially assumed she had been able to store sperm from her earlier encounter with a male, an adaptation known as superfecundation. On 20 December 2006, it was reported that Flora, a captive Komodo dragon living in the Chester Zoo in England, was the second known Komodo dragon to have laid unfertilised eggs: she laid 11 eggs, and seven of them hatched, all of them male. Scientists at Liverpool University in England performed genetic tests on three eggs that collapsed after being moved to an incubator, and verified Flora had never been in physical contact with a male dragon. After Flora’s eggs’ condition had been discovered, testing showed Sungai’s eggs were also produced without outside fertilization. On 31 January 2008, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, became the first zoo in the Americas to document parthenogenesis in Komodo dragons. The zoo has two adult female Komodo dragons, one of which laid about 17 eggs on 19–20 May 2007. Only two eggs were incubated and hatched due to space issues; the first hatched on 31 January 2008, while the second hatched on 1 February. Both hatchlings were males.
Komodo dragons have the ZW chromosomal sex-determination system, as opposed to the mammalian XY system. Male progeny prove Flora’s unfertilised eggs were haploid (n) and doubled their chromosomes later to become diploid (2n) (by being fertilised by a polar body, or by chromosome duplication without cell division), rather than by her laying diploid eggs by one of the meiosis reduction-divisions in her ovaries failing. When a female Komodo dragon (with ZW sex chromosomes) reproduces in this manner, she provides her progeny with only one chromosome from each of her pairs of chromosomes, including only one of her two sex chromosomes. This single set of chromosomes is duplicated in the egg, which develops parthenogenetically. Eggs receiving a Z chromosome become ZZ (male); those receiving a W chromosome become WW and fail to develop, meaning that only males are produced by parthenogenesis in this species.
It has been hypothesised that this reproductive adaptation allows a single female to enter an isolated ecological niche (such as an island) and by parthenogenesis produce male offspring, thereby establishing a sexually reproducing population (via reproduction with her offspring that can result in both male and female young). Despite the advantages of such an adaptation, zoos are cautioned that parthenogenesis may be detrimental to genetic diversity.
Discovery by the Western world
Komodo dragons were first documented by Europeans in 1910, when rumors of a “land crocodile” reached Lieutenant van Steyn van Hensbroek of the Dutch colonial administration. Widespread notoriety came after 1912, when Peter Ouwens, the director of the Zoological Museum at Bogor, Java, published a paper on the topic after receiving a photo and a skin from the lieutenant, as well as two other specimens from a collector. The first two live Komodo dragons to arrive in Europe were exhibited in the Reptile House at London Zoo when it opened in 1927. Joan Beauchamp Procter made some of the earliest observations of these animals in captivity and she demonstrated the behaviour of one of these animals at a Scientific Meeting of the Zoological Society of London in 1928. The Komodo dragon was the driving factor for an expedition to Komodo Island by W. Douglas Burden in 1926. After returning with 12 preserved specimens and 2 live ones, this expedition provided the inspiration for the 1933 movie King Kong. It was also Burden who coined the common name “Komodo dragon.” Three of his specimens were stuffed and are still on display in the American Museum of Natural History.
The Dutch, realizing the limited number of individuals in the wild, outlawed sport hunting and heavily limited the number of individuals taken for scientific study. Collecting expeditions ground to a halt with the occurrence of World War II, not resuming until the 1950s and 1960s, when studies examined the Komodo dragon’s feeding behavior, reproduction, and body temperature. At around this time, an expedition was planned in which a long-term study of the Komodo dragon would be undertaken. This task was given to the Auffenberg family, who stayed on Komodo Island for 11 months in 1969. During their stay, Walter Auffenberg and his assistant Putra Sastrawan captured and tagged more than 50 Komodo dragons. The research from the Auffenberg expedition would prove to be enormously influential in raising Komodo dragons in captivity. Research after that of the Auffenberg family has shed more light on the nature of the Komodo dragon, with biologists such as Claudio Ciofi continuing to study the creatures.
The Komodo dragon is a vulnerable species and is on the IUCN Red List. The Komodo National Park was founded in 1980 to protect Komodo dragon populations on islands including Komodo, Rinca, and Padar. Later, the Wae Wuul and Wolo Tado Reserves were opened on Flores to aid with Komodo dragon conservation.
Komodo dragons avoid encounters with humans. Juveniles are very shy and will flee quickly into a hideout if a human comes closer than about 100 metres (330 ft). Older animals will also retreat from humans from a shorter distance away. If cornered, they will react aggressively by gaping their mouth, hissing, and swinging their tail. If they are disturbed further, they may start an attack and bite. Although there are anecdotes of unprovoked Komodo dragons attacking or preying on humans, most of these reports are either not reputable or caused by defensive bites. Only a very few cases are truly the result of unprovoked attacks by abnormal individuals, which lost their fear towards humans.
Volcanic activity, earthquakes, loss of habitat, fire, loss of prey due to poaching, tourism, and illegal poaching of the dragons themselves have all contributed to the vulnerable status of the Komodo dragon. Under Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), commercial trade of skins or specimens is illegal.
In 2013, total population in the wild was assessed as 3,222 individuals, declining to 3,092 in 2014 and 3,014 in 2015. Populations remained relatively stable on the bigger islands (Komodo and Rinca), but decreased on smaller island such as Nusa Kode and Gili Motang, likely due to diminishing prey availability. On Padar, a former population of the Komodo dragon became extinct, of which the last individuals were seen in 1975. It is widely assumed that the Komodo dragon died out on Padar after a strong decline of the populations of large ungulate prey, for which poaching was most likely responsible.
Komodo dragons have long been great zoo attractions, where their size and reputation make them popular exhibits. They are, however, rare in zoos because they are susceptible to infection and parasitic disease if captured from the wild, and do not readily reproduce. As of May 2009, there were 13 European, 2 African, 35 North American, 1 Singaporean, and 2 Australian institutions that kept Komodo dragons.
The first Komodo dragons were displayed at London Zoo in 1927. A Komodo dragon was exhibited in 1934 at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., but it lived for only two years. More attempts to exhibit Komodo dragons were made, but the lifespan of these animals was very short, averaging five years in the National Zoological Park. Studies done by Walter Auffenberg, which were documented in his book The Behavioral Ecology of the Komodo Monitor, eventually allowed for more successful managing and reproducing of the dragons in captivity.
A variety of behaviors have been observed from captive specimens. Most individuals are relatively tame within a short time, and are capable of recognising individual humans and discriminating between familiar keepers. Komodo dragons have also been observed to engage in play with a variety of objects, including shovels, cans, plastic rings, and shoes. This behavior does not seem to be “food-motivated predatory behavior”.
Even seemingly docile dragons may become unpredictably aggressive, especially when the animal’s territory is invaded by someone unfamiliar. In June 2001, a Komodo dragon seriously injured Phil Bronstein, the then husband of actress Sharon Stone, when he entered its enclosure at the Los Angeles Zoo after being invited in by its keeper. Bronstein was bitten on his bare foot, as the keeper had told him to take off his white shoes and socks, which the keeper stated could potentially excite the Komodo dragon as they were the same colour as the white rats the zoo fed the dragon. Although he escaped, Bronstein needed to have several tendons in his foot reattached surgically.
Komodo island is one of the 17,508 islands that compose the Republic of Indonesia. The island is particularly notable as the habitat of the Komodo dragon, the largest lizard on Earth, which is named after the island. Komodo Island has a surface area of 390 square kilometres and a human population of over two thousand. The people of the island are descendants of former convicts who were exiled to the island and who have mixed with Bugis from Sulawesi. The people are primarily adherents of Islam but there are also Christian and Hindu congregations.
Komodo is part of the Lesser Sunda chain of islands and forms part of the Komodo National Park. In addition, the island is a popular destination for diving. Administratively, it is part of the East Nusa Tenggara province.
Komodo island contains a beach with “pink” sand, one of only seven in the world. The sand appears pink because it is a mixture of white sand combined with red sand, formed from pieces of Foraminifera.
Rinca, also known as Rincah and Rindja, is a small island near Komodo and Flores island, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, within the West Manggarai Regency. It is one of the three biggest island part of Komodo National Park. The island is famous for Komodo dragons, giant lizards that can measure up to 3 metres (9.8 ft) long. Rinca is also populated with many other species such as wild pigs, buffalos and many birds.
Being less known and less visited than Komodo, it is a good place to see the Komodo dragon in its natural environment with fewer people to disturb them. Day trips can be arranged from Labuan Bajo on Flores by small boat at the park headquarters.
The island’s area is 198 square kilometres (76 sq mi).
Living conditions for local people on the island are often difficult. Education facilities, for example, are quite limited for children. Some non-government organisations help with the provision of books for children on Rinca. Local people must also take some care to avoid Komodo dragons because Komodos in the area occasionally attack and kill humans.