- Komodo dragon
name = Komodo dragonITIS|ID=202168|taxon=Varanus komodoensis|year=2007|date=19 June]
status = VU
status_system = iucn3.1
image_width = 256px
phylum = Chordata
classis = Reptilia
subordo = Scleroglossa
genus = "
range_map_caption=Komodo dragon distribution
species = "V. komodoensis"
binomial = "Varanus komodoensis"
binomial_authority = Ouwens, 1912
The Komodo dragon ("Varanus komodoensis") is a species of
lizardthat inhabits the islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Gili Dasami, in central Indonesia.cite book |author=Trooper Walsh; Murphy, James Jerome; Claudio Ciofi; Colomba De LA Panouse |title=Komodo Dragons: Biology and Conservation (Zoo and Aquarium Biology and Conservation Series) |publisher=Smithsonian Books|location= Washington, D.C.|isbn=1-58834-073-2] A member of the monitor lizard family ( Varanidae), it is the largest living species of lizard, growing to an average length of 2–3 meters (approximately 6.5–10 ft) and weighing around 70 kilograms (154 lb). Their unusual size is attributed to island gigantism, since there are no other carnivorous animals to fill the niche on the islands where they live, and also to the Komodo dragon's low metabolic rate.cite book |author=Chris Mattison, |title=Lizards of the World |publisher=Facts on File |location=New York |year=1989 & 1992 |pages= pp. 16, 57, 99, 175 |isbn=0-8160-5716-8 |oclc= |doi=] [cite journal |author=Burness G, Diamond J, Flannery T |title=Dinosaurs, dragons, and dwarfs: the evolution of maximal body size |journal=Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A |volume=98 |issue=25 |pages=14518–23 |year=2001 |pmid=11724953 | doi = 10.1073/pnas.251548698 ] As a result of their size, these lizards are apex predators, dominating the ecosystems in which they live.cite book |author=Tim Halliday (Editor), Kraig Adler (Editor) |title=Firefly Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians |publisher=Firefly Books Ltd |location=Hove |year= |pages=112, 113, 144, 147, 168, 169 |isbn=1-55297-613-0 |oclc= |doi=] Although Komodo dragons eat mostly carrion, they will also hunt and ambush prey including invertebrates, birds, and mammals.
Mating begins between May and August, and the eggs are laid in September. About twenty eggs are deposited in abandoned
megapodenests and incubated for seven to eight months, hatching in April, when insects are most plentiful. Young Komodo dragons are vulnerable and therefore dwell in trees, safe from predators and cannibalistic adults. They take around three to five years to mature, and may live as long as fifty years. They are capable of parthenogenesis, in which viable eggs are laid without fertilization by a male.
Komodo dragons were discovered by Western scientists in 1910. Their large size and fearsome reputation makes them popular zoo exhibits. In the wild their range has contracted due to human activities and they are listed as vulnerable by the
IUCN. They are protected under Indonesian law, and a national park, Komodo National Park, was founded to aid protection efforts.
The Komodo dragon is also known as the Komodo Monitor or the Komodo Island Monitor in scientific literature, although this is not very common. To the natives of Komodo Island, it is referred to as ora, buaja darat (land crocodile) or biawak raksasa (giant monitor).cite web|publisher=
American Museum of Natural History|url=http://www.amnh.org/nationalcenter/Endangered/ora/ora.html|title=Endangered! Ora|accessdate=2007-01-15]
The evolutionary development of the Komodo dragon started with the "
Varanus" genus, which originated in Asia about 40 million years ago and migrated to Australia. Around 15 million years ago, a collision between Australia and Southeast Asia allowed the Varanids to move into what is now the Indonesian archipelago. The Komodo dragon is believed to have differentiated from its Australian ancestors 4 million years ago, extending their range to as far east as the island of Timor. The Ice Ageand its dramatic sea level changes brought the islands that the Komodo dragons inhabited into their present locations, isolating them in their present range.
In the wild, an adult Komodo dragon usually weighs around 70 kilograms (154 lb), although captive specimens often weigh more. The largest verified wild specimen was 3.13 meters (10 ft 3 in) long and weighed 166 kilograms (365 lb), including undigested food.cite web |author=Ciofi, Claudio |publisher=
Scientific American|url=http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-komodo-dragon |title=The Komodo Dragon|accessdate=2006-12-21 |format= |work=] The Komodo dragon has a tail as long as its body, as well as about 60 frequently-replaced serrated teeth that can measure up to 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) in length. Its saliva is frequently blood-tinged, because its teeth are almost completely covered by gingival tissue that is naturally lacerated during feeding. This creates an ideal culture for the virulent bacteriathat live in its mouth.cite web |publisher= Singapore Zoological Gardens|url=http://szgdocent.org/resource/rr/c-komodo.htm |title= Komodo Dragon|accessdate=2006-12-21 |format= |work=|archiveurl=http://web.archive.org/web/20061127173608/http://www.szgdocent.org/resource/rr/c-komodo.htm
archivedate=2006-11-27 ] It also has a long, yellow, deeply-forked tongue.
The Komodo dragon does not have a particularly acute sense of hearing, despite its visible earholes, and is only able to hear sounds between 400 and 2000
hertz.cite web |publisher= bbc.co.uk|url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/animals/features/336feature1.shtml |title=Komodo Conundrum |accessdate=2007-11-25 |format= |work=] It is able to see as far away as 300 meters (985 feet), but because its retinas only contain cones, it is thought to have poor night vision. The Komodo dragon is able to see in color, but has poor visual discrimination of stationary objects.cite web |publisher= National Zoo|url=http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/ReptilesAmphibians/Facts/FactSheets/Komododragon.cfm |title=Komodo Dragon Fact Sheet |accessdate=2007-11-25 |format= |work=]
The Komodo dragon uses its tongue to detect taste and smell
stimuli, as with many other reptiles, with the vomeronasalsense using a Jacobson's organ, a sense that aids navigation in the dark. With the help of a favorable wind and its habit of swinging its head from side to side as it walks, Komodo dragons may be able to detect carrion from 4–9.5 kilometres (2.5–6 mi) away. The dragon's nostrils are not of great use for smelling, as the animal does not have a diaphragm.cite web |publisher=BayScience Foundation, Inc. |url=http://zipcodezoo.com/animals/v/varanus_komodoensis.asp |title=Zipcodezoo: Varanus komodoensis (Komodo Dragon, Komodo Island Monitor, Komodo Monitor) |accessdate=2007-02-01 |format= |work=] It only has a few taste buds in the back of its throat. Its scales, some of which are reinforced with bone, have sensory plaques connected to nerves that facilitate its sense of touch. The scales around the ears, lips, chin, and soles of the feet may have three or more sensory plaques.
The Komodo dragon was formerly thought to be deaf when a study reported no agitation in wild Komodo dragons in response to whispers, raised voices, or shouts. This was disputed when London Zoological Garden employee Joan Proctor trained a captive specimen to come out to feed at the sound of her voice, even when she could not be seen.
The Komodo dragon prefers hot and dry places, and typically lives in dry open grassland, savanna, and tropical forest at low elevations. As an
ectotherm, it is most active in the day, although it exhibits some nocturnalactivity. Komodo dragons are largely solitary, coming together only to breed and eat. They are capable of running rapidly in brief sprints up to 20 kilometres per hour (12.4 mph), diving up to 4.5 metres (15 ft), and climbing trees proficiently when young through use of their strong claws.cite book | last = Burnie | first = David | coauthors = Don E. Wilson | title = Animal | publisher = DK Publishing, Inc. | year = 2001 | location = New York, New York | pages = 417, 420 | id = ISBN 0-7894-7764-5] To catch prey that is out of reach, the Komodo dragon may stand on its hind legs and use its tail as a support. As the Komodo dragon matures, its claws are used primarily as weapons, as its great size makes climbing impractical.
For shelter, the Komodo dragon digs holes that can measure from 1–3 metres (3–10 ft) wide with its powerful forelimbs and claws. Because of its large size and habit of sleeping in these burrows, it is able to conserve body heat throughout the night and minimize its basking period the morning after. [cite book |author=Eric R. Pianka and Laurie J. Vitt; with a foreword by Harry W. Greene |title=Lizards: Windows to the Evolution of Diversity |publisher=University of California Press |location=Berkeley |year=2003 |pages=244 |isbn=0-520-23401-4 |oclc= |doi=] The Komodo dragon typically hunts in the afternoon, but stays in the shade during the hottest part of the day. These special resting places, usually located on ridges with a cool sea breeze, are marked with droppings and are cleared of vegetation. They also serve as a strategic location from which to ambush deer.
Komodo dragons are carnivores. Although they eat mostly
carrion, they will also ambush live prey with a stealthy approach. When suitable prey arrives near a dragon's ambush site, it will suddenly charge at the animal and go for the underside or the throat. It is able to locate its prey using its keen sense of smell, which can locate a dead or dying animal from a range of up to 9.5 kilometers (6 miles). Komodo dragons have also been observed knocking down large pigs and deer with their strong tail.
Komodo dragons eat by tearing large chunks of flesh and swallowing them whole while holding the carcass down with their forelegs. For smaller prey up to the size of a goat, their loosely articulated jaws, flexible skull, and expandable stomach allow it to swallow its prey whole. The vegetable contents of the stomach and intestines are typically avoided. Copious amounts of red saliva that the Komodo dragons produce helps to lubricate the food, but swallowing is still a long process (15–20 minutes to swallow a goat). Komodo dragons may attempt to speed up the process by ramming the carcass against a tree to force it down its throat, sometimes ramming so forcefully that the tree is knocked down. To prevent itself from suffocating while swallowing, it breathes using a small tube under the tongue that connects to the lungs. After eating up to 80
percentof its body weight in one meal, it drags itself to a sunny location to speed digestion, as the food could rot and poison the dragon if left undigested for too long. Because of their slow metabolism, large dragons can survive on as little as 12 meals a year. After digestion, the Komodo dragon regurgitates a mass of horns, hair, and teeth known as the gastric pellet, which is covered in malodorous mucus. After regurgitating the gastric pellet, it rubs its face in the dirt or on bushes to get rid of the mucus, suggesting that it, like humans, does not relish the scent of its own excretions.
The largest animals generally eat first, while the smaller ones follow a hierarchy. The largest male asserts his dominance and the smaller males show their submission by use of body language and rumbling hisses. Dragons of equal size may resort to "wrestling." Losers usually retreat, though have been known to be killed and eaten by victors.
The Komodo dragon's diet is wide-ranging, and includes
invertebrates, other reptiles (including smaller Komodo dragons), birds, bird eggs, small mammals, monkeys, wild boar, goats, deer, horses, and water buffalocite web |publisher= guardian.co.uk|url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/12/indonesia |title=The terrifying truth about Komodo dragons |accessdate=2008-06-19 |format= |work=] . Young Komodos will eat insects, eggs, geckos, and small mammals. Occasionally they have been known to consume humans and human corpses, digging up bodies from shallow graves to do so. This habit of raiding graves caused the villagers of Komodo to move their graves from sandy to clay ground and pile rocks on top of them to deter the lizards.cite book |author=Alison Ballance; Morris, Rod |title=South Sea Islands: A Natural History |publisher=Firefly Books Ltd |location=Hove |year= |pages= |isbn=1-55297-609-2 |oclc= |doi=] The Komodo dragon may have evolved to feed on the extinct dwarf elephant" Stegodon" that once lived on Flores, according to evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond.cite journal |last=Diamond |first=Jared M. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1987 |month= |title=Did Komodo dragons evolve to eat pygmy elephants? |journal=Nature |volume=326 |issue=6116 |pages=832 |doi=10.1038/326832a0] The Komodo dragon has also been observed intentionally startling a pregnant deer in the hopes of a miscarriage whose remains they can eat, a technique that has also been observed in large African predators.
Because the Komodo dragon does not have a diaphragm, it cannot suck water when drinking, nor can it lap water with its tongue. Instead, it drinks by taking a mouthful of water, lifting its head, and letting the water run down its throat.
Venom and bacteria
In late 2005,
University of Melbourneresearchers concluded that the Perentie("Varanus giganteus"), other species of monitor, and agamidsmay be somewhat venomous. It had been thought that bites inflicted by these lizards were prone to infection because of bacteria in the lizards' mouths, but the research team showed that the immediate effects were caused by mild envenomation. Bites on human digits by a Lace Monitor("V. varius"), a Komodo dragon, and a Spotted Tree Monitor ("V. scalaris") were observed, and all produced similar results in humans: rapid swelling within minutes, localized disruption of blood clotting, shooting pain up to the elbow, with some symptoms lasting for several hours. [cite web |publisher=The Center for North American Herpetology |author=Fry, Brian G., et al. |url=http://www.naherpetology.org/pdf_files/467.pdf |title= Early Evolution of the Venom System in Lizards and Snakes |accessdate=2008-03-13 |format=PDF |work=]
Komodo dragons also possess virulent bacteria in their saliva, of which more than 28
Gram-negativeand 29 Gram-positivestrains have been isolated. [cite journal |author=Montgomery JM, Gillespie D, Sastrawan P, Fredeking TM, Stewart GL |title=Aerobic salivary bacteria in wild and captive Komodo dragons |journal=J. Wildl. Dis. |volume=38 |issue=3 |pages=545–51 |year=2002 |pmid=12238371 |doi=] These bacteria cause septicemia in their victim; if an initial bite does not kill the prey animal and it escapes, it will commonly succumb within a week to the resulting infection. The deadliest bacteria in Komodo dragon saliva appears to be a very deadly strain of " Pasteurella multocida", from studies performed with lab mice. [cite journal |last=Feldman |first=Ruth Tenzer |title=Dragon Drool! |journal=Odyssey |volume=16.2 |year=2007 |month=Feb |pages=49] There is no specific antidote to the bite of a Komodo dragon, but it can usually be survived by cleansing the wounded area, and treating the patient with large doses of antibiotics. If not treated promptly, gangrenecan quickly develop around the bite, which may require amputation of the affected area. Because the Komodo dragon appears immune to its own microbes, much research has been done searching for the antibacterial molecule in the hopes of human medicinal use.
Matingoccurs between May and August, with the eggs laid in September. During this period, males fight over females and territory by grappling with one another upon their hind legs with the loser eventually being pinned to the ground. These males may vomit or defecate when preparing for the fight. The winner of the fight will then flick his long tongue at the female to gain information about her receptivity. Females are antagonisticand resist with their claws and teeth during the early phases of courtship. Therefore, the male must fully restrain the female during coitus to avoid being hurt. Other courtship displays include males rubbing their chins on the female, hard scratches to the back, and licking.cite web |publisher= San Diego Zoo|url=http://library.sandiegozoo.org/Fact%20Sheets/komodo_dragon/Komodo.htm |title=Komodo Dragon |accessdate=2008-01-24 |format= |work= |archiveurl=http://web.archive.org/web/20051216073115/http://library.sandiegozoo.org/Fact+Sheets/komodo_dragon/Komodo.htm |archivedate=2005-12-16 ] Copulation occurs when the male inserts one of his hemipenesinto the female's cloaca. Komodo dragons may be monogamous and form "pair bonds", a rare behavior for lizards.
The female lays her eggs in burrows cut into the side of a hill or in the abandoned nesting mounds of the
Orange-footed Scrubfowl(a moundbuilder or megapode), with a preference for the abandoned mounds. [cite web |publisher= Elsevier|author=Jessop, Tim S., et al. |url=http://www.komododragon.biz/uploads/downloads/jessop%20et%20al%202004e.pdf |title=Distribution, Use and Selection of Nest Type by Komodo Dragons |accessdate=2008-03-13 |format=PDF |work=] Clutches contain an average of 20 eggs which have an incubation period of 7–8 months. The female lies on the eggs to incubate and protect them until they hatch around April, at the end of the rainy season when insects are plentiful. Hatching is an exhausting effort for the pups, who break out of their eggshells with an egg tooththat falls off soon after. After cutting out the hatchlings may lie in their eggshells for hours before starting to dig out of the nest. They are born quite defenseless, and many are eaten by predators.
Young Komodo dragons spend much of their first few years in trees, where they are relatively safe from predators, including cannibalistic adults, who make juvenile dragons 10% of their diet. According to
David Attenborough, the habit of cannibalism may be advantageous in sustaining the large size of adults, as medium-sized prey on the islands is rare.cite book |author=Attenborough, David |authorlink=David Attenborough|title=Life in Cold Blood |publisher=Princeton University Press |location=Princeton, N.J |year=2008 |pages= |isbn=0-691-13718-8 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=] When the young must approach a kill, they roll around in fecal matter and rest in the intestines of eviscerated animals to deter these hungry adults. Komodo dragons take about three to five years to mature, and may live for up to 50 years.cite book |author=consultant editors, Harold G. Cogger & Richard G. Zweifel; illustrations by David Kirshner |title=Encyclopedia of Reptiles & Amphibians |publisher=Academic Press |location=Boston |year=1998 |pages=132, 157-8 |isbn=0-12-178560-2 |oclc= |doi=]
A Komodo dragon at London Zoo named Sungai laid a clutch of eggs in late 2005 after being separated from male company for more than two years. Scientists initially assumed that she had been able to store sperm from her earlier encounter with a male, an
adaptationknown as superfecundation. [cite web |author=Morales, Alex |publisher= Bloomberg Television|url=http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601082&sid=apLYpeppu8ag&refer=canada |title=Komodo Dragons, World's Largest Lizards, Have Virgin Births |accessdate=2008-03-28 |format= |work=] On December 20, 2006, it was reported that Flora, a captive Komodo dragon living in the Chester Zooin England, was the second known Komodo dragon to have laid unfertilized eggs: she laid 11 eggs, and 7 of them hatched, all of them male. [Notice by her cage in Chester Zooin England] Scientists at Liverpool Universityin northern England performed genetic tests on three eggs that collapsed after being moved to an incubator, and verified that Flora had had no physical contact with a male dragon. After Flora's eggs' condition had been discovered, testing showed that Sungai's eggs were also produced without outside fertilization. [cite web |publisher= The Times|url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article759338.ece |title=Wise men testify to Dragon's virgin birth |accessdate=2007-11-26 |format= |work=]
Komodo dragons have the ZW chromosomal
sex-determination system, as opposed to the mammalian XY system. Male progeny prove that Flora's unfertilized eggs were haploid(n) and doubled their chromosomes later to become diploid(2n) (by being fertilized by a polar body, or by chromosome duplication without cell division), rather than by her laying diploid eggs by one of the meiosisreduction-divisions in her ovariesfailing). When a female Komodo dragon (with ZW sex chromosomes) reproduces in this manner, she provides her progeny with only one chromosome from each of her pairs of chromosomes, including only one of her two sex chromosomes. This single set of chromosomes is duplicated in the egg, which develops parthenogenetically. Eggs receiving a Z chromosomebecome ZZ (male); those receiving a W chromosome become WW and fail to develop.cite web |publisher= BBC News|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6196225.stm |title='Virgin births' for giant lizards |accessdate=2008-03-13 |format= |work=] [cite web |publisher= Scientific American|url=http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=strange-but-true-komodo-d |title=Strange but True: Komodo Dragons Show that "Virgin Births" Are Possible: Scientific American |accessdate=2008-03-24 |format= |work=]
It has been hypothesized that this reproductive adaptation allows a single female to enter an isolated
ecological niche(such as an island) and by parthenogenesis produce male offspring, thereby establishing a sexually reproducing population (via reproduction with her offspring that can result in both male and female young). Despite the advantages of such an adaptation, zoos are cautioned that parthenogenesis may be detrimental to genetic diversity,cite journal |author=Watts PC, Buley KR, Sanderson S, Boardman W, Ciofi C, Gibson R |title=Parthenogenesis in Komodo Dragons |journal=Nature |volume=444 |issue=7122 |pages=1021–2 |year=2006 |pmid=17183308 |doi=10.1038/4441021a] due to the obvious necessity of breeding between the only female mother and male offspring.
On January 31, 2008, the
Sedgwick County Zooin Wichita, Kansasbecame the first zoo in the Americas to document parthenogenesis in Komodo dragons. The zoo has two adult female Komodo dragons, one of which laid about 17 eggs on May 19-May 20, 2007. Only two eggs were incubated and hatched due to space issues; the first hatched on January 31, 2008 while the second hatched on February 1. Both hatchlings were males. [cite web |publisher= Sedgwick County Zoo|url=http://www.scz.org/n_recent.html |title=Recent News - Sedgwick County Zoo |accessdate=2008-02-12 |format= |work=] [cite web |publisher= MSNBC|url=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23058689/ |title=Komodo dragons hatch with no male involved |accessdate=2008-02-12 |format= |work=]
Discovery by the Western world
Komodo dragons were first documented by
Europeans in 1910, when rumors of a "land crocodile" reached Lieutenant van Steyn van Hensbroek of the Dutch colonial administration. [ [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1025349/The-dragons--bigger-man-deadly-bite-But-stranded-divers-fight-Kimodo-really-fear-prehistoric-relics.html Daily Mail] - Should we really be scared of the Kimodo dragon?] Widespread notoriety came after 1912, when Peter Ouwens, the director of the Zoological Museum at Bogor, Java, published a paper on the topic after receiving a photo and a skin from the lieutenant, as well as two other specimens from a collector.cite book |author=text by David Badger; photography by John Netherton |title=Lizards: A Natural History of Some Uncommon Creatures, Extraordinary Chameleons, Iguanas, Geckos, and More |publisher=Voyageur Press |location=Stillwater, MN |year=2002 |pages=32, 52, 78, 81, 84, 140-145, 151 |isbn=0-89658-520-4 |oclc= |doi=] Later, the Komodo dragon was the driving factor for an expedition to Komodo Island by W. Douglas Burden in 1926. After returning with 12 preserved specimens and 2 live ones, this expedition provided the inspiration for the 1933 movie "King Kong". [cite book |author=Rony, Fatimah Tobing |title=The third eye: race, cinema, and ethnographic spectacle |publisher=Duke University Press |location=Durham, N.C |year=1996 |pages=164 |isbn=0-8223-1840-7 |oclc= |doi=] It was also Burden who coined the common name "Komodo dragon."cite web |publisher=Komodo Foundation |url=http://www.komodo-gateway.org/faq1.html |title=Komodo National Park | Komodo Island | Frequently Asked Questions |accessdate=2007-10-25 |format= |work=] Three of his specimens were stuffed and are still on display in the American Museum of Natural History. [cite web |publisher= American Museum of Natural History|url=http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/expeditions/treasure_fossil/Treasures/Komodo_Dragons/komodo.html?aa |title=American Museum of Natural History: Komodo Dragons |accessdate=2007-06-07 |format= |work=]
The Dutch, realizing the limited number of individuals in the wild, outlawed sport hunting and heavily limited the number of individuals taken for scientific study. Collecting expeditions ground to a halt with the occurrence of World War II, not resuming until the 1950s and 1960s, when studies examined the Komodo dragon's feeding behavior, reproduction, and body temperature. At around this time, an expedition was planned in which a long-term study of the Komodo dragon would be undertaken. This task was given to the Auffenberg family, who stayed on Komodo Island for 11 months in 1969. During their stay, Walter Auffenberg and his assistant Putra Sastrawan captured and tagged more than 50 Komodo dragons.cite journal |first=Mark |last=Cheater |title=Chasing the Magic Dragon |journal=National Wildlife Magazine |volume=41 |issue=5 |year=2003 |month=August/September |publisher=
National Wildlife Federation|url=http://www.nwf.org/nationalwildlife/article.cfm?articleId=810&issueId=63 ] The research from the Auffenberg expedition would prove to be enormously influential in raising Komodo dragons in captivity. Research after the Auffenberg family has shed more light on the nature of the Komodo dragon, with biologists such as Claudio Ciofi continuing to study the creatures.
The Komodo dragon is a vulnerable species and is found on the
IUCN Red List. [IUCN2006|assessors=World Conservation Monitoring Centre|year=1996|id=22884|title=Varanus komodoensis|downloaded=11 May 2006] There are approximately 4,000-5,000 living Komodo dragons in the wild. Their populations are restricted to the islands of Gili Motang (100), Gili Dasami (100), Rinca (1,300), Komodo (1,700), and Flores (perhaps 2,000). However, there are concerns that there may presently be only 350 breeding females. To address these concerns, the Komodo National Parkwas founded in 1980 to protect Komodo dragon populations on islands including Komodo, Rinca, and Padar.cite web |publisher= Komodo National Park|url=http://www.komodonationalpark.org/ |title=The official website of Komodo National Park, Indonesia. |accessdate=2007-02-02 |format= |work=] Later, the Wae Wuul and Wolo Tado Reserves were opened on Flores to aid with Komodo dragon conservation. There is evidence that Komodo dragons are becoming accustomed to human presence, as they are often fed animal carcasses at several feeding stations by tourists.
Volcanic activity, earthquakes, loss of habitat, fire (the population at Padar was almost destroyed because of a wildfire, and has since mysteriously disappeared),cite web |publisher=
National Geographic|url=http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/01/0129_030129_komodo.html |title=Trapping Komodo Dragons for Conservation |accessdate=2007-11-08 |format= |work=] cite book |author=Tara Darling (Illustrator) |title=Komodo Dragon: On Location (Darling, Kathy. on Location.) |publisher=Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books |location= |year= |pages= |isbn=0-688-13777-6 |oclc= |doi=] loss of prey, tourism, and poaching have all contributed to the vulnerable status of the Komodo dragon. Under Appendix I of CITES(the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), commercial trade of skins or specimens is illegal. [cite web |publisher= CITES|url=http://www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.shtml |title=Appendices I, II and III |accessdate=2008-03-24 |format= |work=]
The Australian biologist
Tim Flanneryhas suggested that Australian ecosystem may benefit from the introduction of Komodo dragons, as it could partially occupy the large-carnivore niche left vacant following the extinction of the giant varanid " Megalania". However, he argues for great caution and gradualness in these acclimatisation experiments, especially as "the problem of predation of large varanids upon humans should not be understated". He uses the example of the successful coexistence with saltwater crocodiles as evidence that Australians could successfully adjust. [cite book |author=Flannery, Tim |title=The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People |publisher=Grove Press |location=New York |year=2002 |pages=384-385 |isbn=0-8021-3943-4 |oclc= |doi= |accessdate=]
Although attacks are very rare, Komodo dragons have been known to kill humans. On June 4, 2007, a Komodo dragon attacked an eight year old boy on Komodo Island. He later died of massive bleeding from his wounds. It was the first recorded fatal attack in 33 years. [cite web |publisher=
MSNBC|url=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19026658/ |title=Komodo dragon kills boy in Indonesia |accessdate=2007-06-07 |format= |work=] Natives blamed the attack on environmentalists angering the monitors by discontinuing goat sacrifices. To the natives of Komodo Island, the Komodo dragon is actually the reincarnation of fellow kinspeople, and are thus treated with reverence. [cite web|publisher= Wall Street Journal|url=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121963304805268235.html?mod=djemBestOfTheWeb|accessdate=2008-08-29]
Komodo dragons have long been great zoo attractions, where their size and reputation make them popular exhibits. They are, however, rare in zoos because they are susceptible to infection and parasitic disease if captured from the wild, and do not readily reproduce.
The first Komodo dragon was exhibited in 1934 at the
Smithsonian National Zoological Park, but it lived for only two years. More attempts to exhibit Komodo dragons were made, but the lifespan of these creatures was very short, averaging 5 years in the National Zoological Park. Studies done by Walter Auffenberg, which were documented in his book "The Behavioral Ecology of the Komodo Monitor", eventually allowed for more successful managing and reproducing of the dragons in captivity.
It has been observed in captive dragons that many individuals display relatively tame behavior within a short period of time in captivity. Many occurrences are reported where keepers have brought the animals out of their enclosures to interact with zoo visitors, including young children, to no harmful effect.cite journal |last=Procter |first=J.B. |year=1928 |month=October |title=On a living Komodo Dragon "Varanus komodoensis" Ouwens, exhibited at the Scientific Meeting |journal=Proc. Zool. Soc. London |volume= |issue= |pages=1017–1019] cite journal |last=Lederer |first=G. |year=1931 |month= |title=Erkennen wechselwarme Tiere ihren Pfleger? |journal=Wochenschr. Aquar.-Terrarienkunde |volume=28 |issue= |pages=636–638] Dragons are also capable of recognizing individual humans. Ruston Hartdegen of the
Dallas Zooreported that their Komodo dragons reacted differently when presented with their regular keeper, a less familiar keeper, or a completely unfamiliar keeper.cite journal |last=Murphy |first=J. |authorlink= |coauthors=T. Walsh |year=2006 |month= |title=Dragons and Humans |journal=Herpetological Review |volume=37 |issue= |pages=269–275]
Research with captive Komodo dragons has also provided evidence that they engage in play. One study concerned an individual who would push a shovel left by its keeper, apparently attracted to the sound of it scraping across the rocky surface. A young female dragon at the
National Zooin Washington, D.C. would grab and shake various objects including statues, beverage cans, plastic rings and blankets. She would also insert her head into boxes, shoes, and other objects. She did not confuse these objects with food, as she would only swallow them if they were covered in rat blood. This social play has led to a striking comparison with mammalian play.
Another documentation of play in Komodo dragons comes from the
University of Tennessee, where a young Komodo dragon named "Kraken" interacted with plastic rings, a shoe, a bucket, and a tin can by nudging them with her snout, swiping at them, and carrying them around in her mouth. She treated all of them differently than her food, prompting leading researcher Gordon Burghardt to conclude that they disprove the view of object play being "food-motivated predatory behavior." Kraken was the first Komodo dragon hatched in captivity outside of Indonesia, born in the National Zooon September 13, 1992. [cite journal |title=Such jokers, those Komodo dragons |journal=Science News | volume =78 |issue =1 |pages=78 |year=2002 |month=August |quote= ]
Even seemingly docile dragons may become aggressive unpredictably, especially when the animal's territory is invaded by someone unfamiliar. In June 2001, a Komodo dragon seriously injured
Phil Bronstein—executive editor of the " San Francisco Chronicle"—when he entered its enclosure at the Los Angeles Zooafter being invited in by its keeper. Bronstein was bitten on his bare foot, as the keeper had told him to take off his white shoes, which could have potentially excited the Komodo dragon. [cite web |publisher=Time |url=http://www.time.com/time/sampler/article/0,8599,133163,00.html |title=Transcript: Sharon Stone vs. the Komodo Dragon |accessdate=2008-03-20 |format= |work=] [cite book |author=Phillip T. Robinson |title=Life at the Zoo: Behind the Scenes with the Animal Doctors |publisher=Columbia University Press |location=New York |year=2004 |pages=79 |isbn=0-231-13248-4 |oclc= |doi=] Although he escaped, he needed to have several tendons in his foot reattached surgically. [cite web |publisher= San Francisco Chronicle|url=http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2001/06/11/MN204069.DTL |title=Editor stable after attack by Komodo dragon / Surgeons reattach foot tendons of Chronicle's Bronstein in L.A. |accessdate=2008-03-23 |format= |work=]
Megalania prisca" (also known as "Varanus priscus") - A huge extinct varanid lizard
Papua monitor("Varanus salvadorii") - A monitor lizard often asserted to be the longest lizard
Toxicofera- A hypothetical cladethat the Komodo dragon is supposed to be in
* Whiptail lizards - Lizards known for their parthenogenesis and widely studied as a result
*cite book |author=Auffenberg, Walter |title=The Behavioral Ecology of the Komodo Monitor |publisher=University Presses of Florida |location=Gainesville |year=1981 |pages= |isbn=0-8130-0621-X |oclc= |doi=
*cite book |author=Eberhard, Jo; King, Dennis; Green, Brian; Knight, Frank; Keith Newgrain |title=Monitors: The Biology of Varanid Lizards |publisher=Krieger Publishing Company |location=Malabar, Fla |year=1999 |pages= |isbn=1-57524-112-9 |oclc= |doi=
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