National Geographic : 2014 Jan
Komodo Dragons 103 animals. Packing up powdered milk and choco- late, his wife, Eleanor, told a local newspaper that her best friend thought she was crazy. “Cra- zy, maybe,” Eleanor replied. “Worried, no.” Life in a big city would be more terrifying, she said. During the fieldwork Auffenberg wrote of curious dragons wandering into his blind. One tongue flicked his tape recorder, knife, and feet. To encourage the lizard to leave, he flicked back, tapping it on the head with his pencil. Appar- ently it worked. Another “stretched out in the shade...with his front leg draped over mine as he lay there half asleep.” Auffenberg was able to prod the animal to leave without incident. Back in the ’70s Auffenberg wasn’t that wor- ried about the survival of the Komodo monitors. Today scientists ask: Can these dragons carry on? Dragon salvation relies heavily on the mundane issue of land management. On Flores, despite the nature reserves, locals set fires to clear land for gardens and pastures, breaking dragon habi- tat into small fragments. Also, some people still hunt the deer and pigs that dragons like, as do feral dogs. And scientists suspect the dogs may chase—and even kill—young dragons, which spend their first year in the treetops but then come down to earth. So the Flores dragons are boxed in: by vil- lages, farmland, rice fields, the sea, and the dogs. That means less living space and a decline in prey. And ultimately fewer dragons. If a changing climate affects the landscape, the dragons aren’t well equipped to cope. Ciofi and ecologist Tim Jessop of the University of Melbourne, who’s been researching dragons for the past decade, explain that with fewer than 5,000 animals scattered over a small number of islands, there’s reduced genetic diversity, which limits their ability to adapt. The dragons could improve their genetic pool by swimming from island to island to mate. But while they’re ca- pable swimmers, strong currents and differences between island habitats discourage them. Be- sides, they’re homebodies. To learn more about dragons, Ciofi, Jessop, and their Indonesian colleagues have caught and tagged about a thousand and have DNA samples from 800. Their efforts have told them a lot about numbers, male-female ratios, survival rates, and JEROME N. COOKSON, NGM STAFF. SOURCE: CLAUDIO CIOFI, UNIVERSITY OF FLORENCE AUSTRALIA ASIA ASIA INDONESIA AREA ENLARGED INDIAN OCEAN PACIFIC OCEAN EQUATOR 0mi 20 0km 20 Present day Lost since 1970 Komodo dragon range 120° 121° 119°E 9°S Savu Sea Flores Sea Poco Likang 7,815 ft 2,382 m Raba Ruteng Bajawa Reo Riung Pota Labuhanbajo Warloka Rinca Komodo Komodo Sangeang Rinca Padar SUMBAWA FLORES Gili Motang Nusa Kode WAE WUUL NATURE RESERVE WOLO TADHO NATURE RESERVE TUJUH BELAS PULAU NATURE RESERVE KOMODO NATIONAL PARK Komodo National Park, set up in 1980, and three reserves protect what scientists believe is a declining population of Komodo dragons. Their range has shrunk too, likely due to environmental changes as well as human encroachment.