National Geographic : 2014 Jan
108 national geographic • January 2014 breeding success—and how inbred the popula- tions are. The genetic differences they find aren’t the kinds of things that show up on the outside— bigger teeth or fatter tails. They’re the seemingly innocent codes within that dictate who survives and who doesn’t. Then comes the match game: figuring out how to shift animals from one group to another, making sure the newcomers aren’t re- lated to each other. A more extreme approach, if numbers were to plummet, would be to ship in zoo animals to bolster the gene pool. In Indonesia Komodo dragons have been breeding in captivity since 1965. In 1992 the first baby dragon was born out- side the homeland, at the National Zoo in Wash- ington, D.C. Since then, breeding efforts have gone like gangbusters. Today about 400 dragons live in zoos worldwide. But playing God is controversial, Jessop notes: “We could be breaking the evolutionary integrity—messing with the natural path the ani- mals are on. Some people are reluctant to do that.” Besides, programs that relocate local animals only “work about half the time.” Nor is the transition from zoo life to the wild an easy one. And there is Storm clouds darken the Rinca sky during the wet season, from December to March. The months of rain are enough to sustain forests that provide a home to dragon prey. This elderly lizard is probably growing too weak to hunt.