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Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)

Population Status

Global estimate

  • Approximately 3,500 individuals, including adults and juveniles (Jessop et al. 2021)
    • Approximately 1,400 mature individuals (all island populations combined)
      • Approximately 400 mature females

Estimates by population

  • Two-thirds of global individuals occur on Komodo and Rinca Islands (Jessop et al. 2021)
  • Komodo National Park
    • About 2,450 individuals (Purwandana et al. 2014; data from 2011-2012; Jessop et al. 2021)
  • Rinca Island (Jessop et al. 2021)
    • About 1,100-1,500 individuals
      • About 500 adults
    • Largest subpopulation
  • Komodo Island
    • Similar but lower populations to Rinca Island (Jessop et al. 2021)
  • Gili Motang Island
    • Fewer than 100 individuals (Jessop et al. 2021)
  • Nusa Kode Island
    • Fewer than 100 individuals (Jessop et al. 2021)
  • Flores Island (Purwandana et al. 2014; data from 2011-2012)
    • No recent estimates (though population monitoring conducted by Ariefiandy et al. 2015)
    • About 100 on W. Flores (Wae Waul Reserve)
    • About 2,000 scattered in non-protected areas
  • Padar and North West Flores
    • Very small populations: fewer than 10 individuals (Jessop et al. 2021)

Conservation Status

IUCN Status

  • Endangered (2019 assessment) (Jessop et al. 2021)
    • Status changed from Vulnerable to Endangered in 2021: occurs in small, isolated populations and island habitat impacted by climate change
      • Rate of population decline from 2010 to 2050 may exceed 30% due to rising temperatures and sea levels
    • Fewer than 1,400 mature individuals occur in 8 subpopulations
      • Komodo and Rinca Island population sizes stable or increasing; some other subpopulations declining (e.g., Flores Island)

CITES

Other designations

  • Protected under Indonesian law (1931, 1990) and a ministerial decree (1991)

Threats to Survival

  • Population found in Komodo National Park is relatively stable. But on Flores, the population is more at risk for decline (Jessop et al. 2021).
  •  Habitat destruction and fragmentation (Ariefiandy et al. 2021)
    •  From logging, clearing for agriculture, and expansion of human settlements
      • Notable declines in Flores populations due to logging (Ariefiandy et al. 2021)
        • 44% range area contraction over 5 years on Flores Island
    • Forest fires started by poachers to flush out prey
    • Dynamite and cyanide poisoning used to collect fish for food has disturbed population
  • Illegal trafficking (Gokkon 2019)
    • High demand for Komodo dragons as exotic pets
    • Up to 98% of transactions made over social media sites
  • Food competition with feral dogs
  • Poaching of prey species by humans (Ariefiandy et al. 2021)
    • Deer, wild boar 
  • Effects of global warming (Jones et al. 2020)
    • Ecological changes reduce prey availability
    • Loss/degradation of preferred habitats (e.g., lowland deciduous forests)
    • Loss of habitat due to rising sea levels
  • Risks to small, geographically limited populations
    • Population occurs in eight subpopulations, each with fewer than 500 individuals (Jessop et al. 2021)
    • Sensitive to fluctuations in environmental conditions, disease susceptibility, inbreeding, and genetic drift
  • Deposition of volcanic ash can destroy vegetation and alter habitat

Conservation History

First European observations

  • 1920: Komodo dragon first documented by Europeans
    • Described as "land crocodiles"
    • Peter Ouwens, director of the zoological museum at Bogor, Java, publishes scientific work after receiving a photo, skin, and two specimens from a collector (Ouwens 1912)
  • 1926: Burden expedition (sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History)
    • First 2 live Komodo dragons brought to the U.S. (Barnard 2011)
    • Housed at the Bronx Zoo
    • Komodo dragon became a celebrity species
      • Garnered much publicity and press coverage
      • Many people came to see the rare animal
    • Dutch authorities received many requests for specimens to display and study

Early protections

  • Dutch authorities limit island access and implement export controls in the 1920s and 1930s (Barnard 2011)
    • Late 1920s
      • Dutch governing bodies further restrict access to islands where Komodo dragons found and pass ordinances to protect wildlife
      • Many expeditions denied access to collect Komodo dragons. Granted permission only on rare occasions through diplomatic channels.
    • 1937
      • Areas on Komodo and Rinca Islands designated reserves
    • 1938
      • Ban on all ships landing on Komodo Island
      • Ban on export of any Komodo dragons and their body parts

Management Actions

  • 1980: Komodo National Park established
    • 3 major islands: Komodo, Rinca and Gilli Motang, plus many smaller islands
      • 173,300 hectares
    • 1984: first management unit
    • 1986: Declared a man and biosphere reserve
    • 1991: Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site
    • Increased protection from ecotourism (Ardiantiono et al., 2018)
      • Elevates supervision in protected areas
      • Economic value motivates local communities to protect Komodo dragons
  • Komodo National Park conservation efforts (many initiated by park administration)
    • Support and training for community members, teachers, and students
      • Tour guide training
      • Annual census project
      • Infrastructure support (e.g., rebuilding of Wae Wuul ranger post)
      • Environmental education program in schools (Kamil et al. 2020)
    • Community involvement
      • Community members patrol reserve areas (Ariefiandy et al. 2015) to reduce poaching as well as assess Komodo and prey populations
      • Assessments of local knowledge and attitudes; incorporate belief structures into management protocols (Forth 2010)
  • Other proposed protections
    • Tourists encouraged to register with well-managed tour operations (Jakarta Post, Sept. 18, 2020)
      • Also reduction in number of tourists allowed
    • Extension of KNP boundaries to include 2 additional islands
    • Limit population growth of certain villages on Rinca and Komodo Islands

Page Citations

CBSG (1995)
Hudson et al. (1994)

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