The “not so free” life of Komodo Dragon

A short article by : Rafi Putra Ananta & Matthias Grembler

Research & Data Analyst of Standing Committee on Animal Welfare

International Veterinary Students Association

Introduction

Picture 1. A photo of Komodo Dragon blocking a truck (1)

Back at the end of 2020, a distressing image of a komodo dragon blocking a truck in a seemingly construction site went viral. It attracts a lot of conservationists especially from Indonesia. Many people wondered about what is actually going on in this remote island of Indonesia and what do the komodo dragons face in their habitat. This is our summary about what really happened about this issue. All of the information below was gathered from multiple literatures and articles such as recent research and local news. We also get in touch with locals that live on the island

Komodos in their Natural Habitat

The Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is the world’s most infamous lizard. It is also an endangered lizard that comes from the remote archipelago of Indonesia that consists of Komodo island, Rintja island, Gilimontang island, and Padar island. Komodo dragons mainly inhabit dry savannah. But, they also inhabit woodlands and monsoon forest near the beach. (2)

Komodos in their early stage of life usually live hidden under the big branch of wood, consuming insects and other lizards that are smaller than the komodos. When they reach their mature ages, they will turn into an apex predator who can consume big mammals such as goats, deer, wild boar and even bigger mammals like water buffalo. Mature komodo hunts by hiding in the bushes, waiting for their prey to pass. If the prey is close enough, they will move a striking blow foremost by crippling the tendon. When the prey already drops, Komodos will instantly kill them by ripping their necks or their intestines. The ability on how Komodo can eat was actually impressive. Some say that the komodos are able to deplenish their prey in only 17 minutes. (3)

The saliva of Komodo is highly septic. If one of their prey got bitten, usually the lesion will not heal and the prey will eventually die in the end. Komodos saliva at least contains four types of bacteria that are able to cause serious blood toxicity. The results of infection can be crippling or even deadly. For example, if the attack occurs at 10 in the morning, usually the prey will die at the end of the day.  (2)

“Komodos on the island live side by side with humans” as stated by the ranger on the Komodo National Park, Mr. Tasrif. “Even if they live near inhabitants of the island, the komodos hardly care about them, they mostly stay in their position or even turn around when humans approach them. They only give aggression when we bother them so much. But, they can also be attracted and approach the settlement if there are remains of human food that are not thrown away properly”

The Jurassic Park Project

So what is actually going on in Komodo’s island? It happened recently back in October when the Indonesian government planned to turn the archipelago into one of the so-called “10 New Balis”. The archipelago was even designated as a “super priority tourism destination”. As part of the design, the Indonesian government changed the status of the Komodo National Park and the surrounding area to become the so-called “National Strategic Territory” to be developed as a “world class eco-tourism destination”. (4)

The truck in the photo above itself was one of the parts of a geopark development project conducted by the government of Indonesia called “The Jurassic Park Project”. Mr. Tasrif said the project itself is located on the Rinca island, in a district called Loh Buaya. The location was more like an open area without any foliage. The ground is muddy, and yes, it’s a crossing site for the Komodos.

It will be turned into a recreational and educational site of tourism about dinosaurs. The area will be potentially transformed from once a natural habitat of the Komodos to premium tourism sites involving Komodos. “They planned to increase ticket prices to enter the island, so only the elite or rich travellers could enter the island”, said Mr. Tasrif.

An article by Rosary (5) in mongabay.com stated that the government waste a lot of money to make the project happens and surely this project would cause serious effects to the authenticities of landscape in Loh Buaya district and threatening the natural ecosystem of Komodos and other animals in that area. 

This project consists of building an elevated pathway so the visitors could see Komodos from above, lodgings for ranger and researcher, an area for tour guide and information center that inspired from the Jurassic Park franchise. 

Picture 2. An Illustration of the Park (1)

Komodo’s Welfare

It is acknowledged that Komodos live side by side with local residents of the island all this time. Lutz & Lutz (2), in their book titled “Komodo, the Living Dragon” stated that they feared Komodo might as well become extinct by the greed of local people, compared to Dodo. But, if we look at the statistics on their population on 2017-2019 by The Ministry of Forestry and Environment of Indonesia (6), which means before the construction exist, it was counted that the amount of local Komodo population was 2.762 individuals on 2017, 2897 individuals on 2018, and 3022 on 2019. We can conclude that there is an increasing amount of komodo’s population on the Island. Komodos are doing just fine living with local people, Mr. Tasrif even stated that the conflicts between komodos and local people rarely happens since the locals are always cautious and careful when Komodo is around. The locals never bother the natural habitat of Komodo even though the Komodo sometimes enter their village to take a rest or scavenge for food. Komodos only show aggression if someone bothers them so much. “Recently, there was a conflict where a kid got snapped by a komodo, but it happened because that kid accidentally interrupted a komodo when it had rest, she meant to take her toy but unfortunately it went sideways”, said Mr. Tasrif.

Komodos will surely disturbed if outsiders keep exploiting their natural habitat. Who could’ve guessed how large it would become, humans have a tendency to never get enough and it could potentially narrow the natural landscape. In the end, komodo would lose their only home. An article by The Jakarta Post (7), stated that the ministry claimed the construction would not risk the safety of wildlife endemic in the area and adhered to conservation regulations. 

Even though the ministry said that the construction will maintain the ecological aspect and not harm komodos in any way possible, there’s still an issue regarding the welfare of the komodos. “It really has a lot of effects I think, since it’s located on the crossing site of the Komodos. Komodos really need a natural habitat without any buildings around them. If there’s a habitable building, Komodos usually stay around since they know there is food inside it, they are addicted to it and it makes them look like a tame animal, but the truth is they naturally are predators that hunt. They hide behind grasses and chase their prey. So it’s really bothering their natural behavior”, said Mr. Tasrif as a local ranger who understands komodo’s habit.

From the statement by Mr. Tasrif above we can conclude that human activities and settlements really affect their natural behavior. Maybe in the near future komodos will always stick to humans and beg for food. According to “Sentience and Animal Welfare” by Broom (8) ‘Freedom to express normal behaviour’ will be achieved if the animals have social limitations with humans. The construction will surely cause something for the komodos. It will be hard for them to express their way of life. Since they are an apex predator, it will be hard for them to find food in their usual hunting grounds. And as a living thing, they can’t live as solitary animals if humans are all around them and it will lead to human-animal conflict. Early on this year, a conflict happened on the construction site. As stated by Mr. Tasrif, “There are some conflicts in the construction site where the workers are attacked by Komodo, but I don’t really know about the details since they’re really careful to keep the news under control”. The conflict will probably increase if the island keeps getting crowded with people. There should be limitations or prohibitions regarding this so they will not collide with humans.

REFERENCES

  1. Daniels, J. M. 2020. Reptilian Resistance at Komodo Park?. Bali Discovery. Accessed 6 November 2020. <balidiscovery.com/reptilian-resistance-at-komodo-park>
  2. Lutz, D. and Lutz, J. M. 1991. Komodo The Living Dragon. Oregon : Dimi Press
  3. Bennet, D. 1995. A Little Book of Monitor Lizards. Great Britain : Viper Press
  4. Dale, Cypri Jehan P. & Afioma, G. 2020. Puzzling Confluence of Conservation and Ecotourism in Komodo National Park, Indonesia. Japan-ASEAN Transdiplinary Studies Working Paper Series No. 10.
  5. Rosary, E. 2020. Pemerintah Lakukan Berbagai Pembangunan di TN Komodo, Bagaimana Dampaknya? Mongabay. Accessed 3 November 2020 <https://www.mongabay.co.id/2020/10/28/pemerintah-lakukan-berbagai-pembangunan-di-tn-komodo-bagaimana-dampaknya>
  1. The Ministry of Forestry and Environment of Indonesia. 2019. Penutupan Kawasan Taman Nasional Komodo Perlu Pembahasan Lebih Lanjut dan Terencana. Accessed 8 November 2020. <https://www.menlhk.go.id/site/single_post/1825>
  2. Fachriansyah, R. 2020. Govt denies ‘Jurassic Park’ claims amid controversy surrounding Rinca Island Project. Accessed 12 January 2021. <https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/10/28/govt-denies-jurassic-park-claims-amid-controversy-surrounding-rinca-island-project.html&gt;
  3. Broom, D. M. (2014) Sentience and Animal Welfare. Croydon : CABI

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