Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.
The Komodo Dragon Varanus komodoensis is the worlds largest lizard. They are capable of growing up to ten feet in length and weighing 150 lbs. With a surprising turn of speed on land and in the water they are a creature that deserves respect. Their armory consists of strong claws, a mouth full of very sharp teeth backed up by venom glands in the lower jaw and saliva made up of extremely virulent bacteria. Not an animal to be bitten by!
The easy life is the Komodo Dragons first choice and they prefer to scavenge. They will check out the shoreline of their island home for whatever tasty morsel may have been washed up. Big dragons will eat smaller dragons and goats and deer and....if the opportunity arises they will eat man too.
These fantastic creatures are confined to Komodo island and the smaller islands of Flores, Rinca and Gili Montang in the southern part of Indonesia. The islands and their reptilian inhabitants figure highly in the modern wonders of the natural world. The Komodo Dragons only came to the attention of Western scientists in 1910 and have continued to fascinate ever since. The Komodo Dragon is remarkable in that it is capable of parthenogenesis, which means that females are capable of laying fertile eggs without ever being near a male...'Virgin Birth'.
Estimates as to the number of animals vary from 5000 downwards to about 1,700. The recent statement that there are only 17 animals on Flores is somewhat worrying as it significantly down from the numbers stated in some other sources.
In the summer of 2009 the zoo world became aware that 10 Komodo Dragons were to be removed from the wild to Bali Marine and Safari Park. The reasons cited were for 'genetic purification', a phrase that nobody seemed to understand. These ten animals were to be removed from East Nusa Tenggara in the Komodo Islands. The Zoo News Digest Blog kept a close eye on the story.
Somehow the press got hold of the story and instead of the move taking place without anybody knowing it came to the attention of the Deputy Governor of the island. He was extremely annoyed. To his way of thinking if Komodo Dragons could be seen in Bali Marine and Safari Park why would anyone want to travel to the islands to see the animals in the wild. This would mean a loss of tourists and the money they generated. It was also argued that the Komodo Dragon would not breed in an area other than their natural environment. This is of course ridiculous.
It was then discovered that the Bali Marine and Safari Park was already holding four Komodo Dragons. East Nusa Tenggara asked for their return whilst not knowing where they originated from (this has still not been made clear). The head of the NTT Natural Resources Conservation Agency, Agus Berelaku remarked that these four animals could not have been tested for 'genetic purifaction' (again that mysterious phrase).
Governor Frans Leburaya of East Nusa Tenggara met with Forestry Minister M.S. Kaban on the 26th August 2009 to express his concerns over the removal of the 10 Dragons. He was overuled and told that the animals would be removed from Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara as per the already issued decree.
The suggestion that the Dragons were being removed purely as commercial exploitation by Bali Marine and Safari Park was vigorously denied by Hans Manangsang, head of the park. The move was purely out of concern for the Komodos in the wild which were under a constant threat from forest fires aggravated by a much reduced natural food supply.
Citing food supply as reason is a lot more believeable than 'genetic purification'. There is no question about it the Komodo Dragon is threatened in the wild. The island of Flores in East Nusa Tenggara now has only 17, down from many dozens a few years back. Lack of natural prey has increased eating of their own eggs. Bali, it was suggested by Tourism and Culture Minister Jero Wacik, was somewhere safe, had enough food and they planned to build a 'komodo dragon breeding ground'. The involvement of the 'Gianjar Safari Park' (Bali Marine and Safari Park) was purely benevolent it was said. The Forestry department did not have the funds available.for the project but the Safari Park did. The plan apparently was to breed from these ten animals and then release them on Flores (which is not part of the Komodo Dragon National Park).
Whilst all of these debates and arguments have been taking place citing one thing and then another what appears never to have been mentioned is that the CBSG, an international body of experts, following serious study and discussion made the suggestion that some animals should be removed from Flores for study and breeding. This, to me is the most important contributor of all. Why was it not mentioned that a PHVA had already been done? Instead this amazing 'genetic purification' comes up time and again.
Just when you thought that things could not get much worse for the Komodo Dragon they are now threatened by Gold Mining. Several mines are planned for areas around the park and some exploratory work has already been done.
The powers that be argue that the planned mines are a sufficient distance from the Komodo park as not to present a threat and yet already there is evidence of pollution. Such is the avarice of man that if gold is found in marketable quantities that there is bound to be encroachment.
Dragon Guarding Nest
An Important Post Script
I published this hub on the 27th August 2009. On the 3rd September 2009 I was sent a statement by the CBSG which they asked me to include. I do this now in its entireity:
"CBSG would like to clarify our position with respect to the current proposed removal of komodo monitors from Flores . In 1995 CBSG facilitated a Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) workshop in Bogor , Indonesia , attended by 44 biologists, managers and other stakeholders. The PHVA was designed to assess the status of both wild and captive komodo populations and, with the assistance of population modeling, to develop recommendations for management and conservation both in situ and ex situ. Recommendations for captive management included regional and global coordination and concerted efforts to breed unrepresented wild-caught individuals already in captivity, but did not recommend the capture of additional komodos for captive breeding at that time.
Modeling of the Wae Woul population on Flores indicated that the population could withstand the removal of 10 animals (5 males, 5 females) given the model assumptions. However, this workshop analysis was conducted almost 15 years ago and even at that time it was recognized that data for this population were highly unreliable (e.g., the model assumed 100 individuals with stable population growth) and that the model likely underestimated threats and extinction risk to the population. PHVA participants urgently recommended field studies to determine the size, status and threats of this population to allow for the development of better population models.
CBSG has offered our assistance to Indonesia to conduct an assessment of the current situation. We have offered to facilitate a workshop that incorporates all available new data to evaluate the current population status of the wild and captive populations of komodo monitors in Indonesia, to develop a more reliable population model given new data, and to determine the potential impacts of the proposed capture of komodos from Flores on both populations, as well as the impacts of other potential management actions."
If you never make it down as far as Komodo take a trip out to the Perentian Islands off the coast of Malaysia as some of the monitor lizards there are of massive proportions. Eight feet is not unusual. The locals take little notice of these amazing creatures as they stroll past houses, boats or fishermen.
filthyscoundral on September 02, 2009:
great hub thanks!
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on August 30, 2009:
Dragonfun - There must be dozens of Dragons in the Ranugan Zoo
dragonfun on August 30, 2009:
My hungarian friend send the infos: two hungarian zoo (Budapest and Nyiregyhaza) get adult pair soon from Indonesia.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on August 30, 2009:
Catherine R - A monitor in your back garden may well have been asset.
When I lived in the middle east I kept a series of monitors in my living room. These were short term guests which sorted out rodent problems when we slept. By day they slept under the sofa.
By the by we also had a series of hedgehogs in the kitchen. These slept under the fridge and made short work of the cockroaches.
Catherine R from Melbourne, Australia on August 30, 2009:
Thanks for such an interesting hub. What fantastic animals these are - I love them. I have seen them in Singapore Zoo a few times and find them fascinating. When I lived in Cape Town we had a house that backed onto the mountain which was nature reserve. Sometimes we would get a huge Legavaan coming past our back fence - this is a kind of Rock Monitor but I am sure you know them. I certainly didn't want this beast inside my garden I can tell you!
Amanda Severn from UK on August 29, 2009:
Fascinating hub. Komodo Dragons are amazing creatures. I hope this all gets resolved satisfactorily.
Ralf Sommerlad on August 27, 2009:
I certainly to agree with you, Peter, and the movement to Bali
Safari has a pure commercial background,nothing else! Very frustrating are also the gold mining activities on Komodo which are more than any thread !
@dohn121: The monitor starring in that movie was just called to be a Komodo dragon but was in fact a water monitor ( Varanus salvator ).
Mac Mission from bangalore on August 27, 2009:
Komodo Dragons are very ugly.Dangerous too.
CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on August 27, 2009:
Fascinating hub on Komodo Dragons. I don't much fancy their chances if gold is found, their habitat will be polluted and encroached on pretty quickly.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on August 27, 2009:
I worked with two. They could be a bit nasty in their air conditioned summer housing but when outside in thw winter much more placid and loveable. I don't believe I have seen the movie you mention.
dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on August 27, 2009:
I love Komodo Dragons, although though they probably don't like me (unless as a meal). The first time I heard of them is from the movie, "The Freshman" with Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick. They are just so fascinating! For instance, I did not know the word, parthenogenesis.