The Last Dragons? Mega Lizards of Komodo Island
By Chinyere Emeruwa, Staff Contributor
The Lesser Sunda Islands, located in one of the world’s fastest growing regions, are home to the only known population of Komodo dragons alive today. As the islands become an increasingly popular tourist destination, the dragons’ chances of survival become decreasingly certain.
If you decide to hike around the Lesser Sunda Islands, where the world’s largest lizards have roamed for millennia, be prepared. Known to weigh over 300 pounds and stretch ten feet long, Komodo dragons can be found on the islands’ beaches, in trees, under human habitats, and across tourists’ well-worn paths.
“If you decide to hike around the Lesser Sunda Islands, where the world’s largest lizards have roamed for millennia, be prepared.”
Also, avoid the water; the dragons often travel from one island to another in search of food. Although the big lizards appear apathetic and slow, if hungry, they will pursue any available meat. If you are not careful, an island guide’s forked wooden stick (maybe modeled after a dragon tongue) may be the only available separation from a dragon’s tough, threatening jaws.
Seeing a Komodo dragon is likely the closest a human can come to an encounter with the mythical fire-breathing flying creatures of popular culture. Devoid of wings or spewing flames, these odd, scaly crocodile cousins remain among the easiest endangered species to find in their only known habitat: five islands located south of the Equator in Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda region. But the dragons’ future is threatened by development and human encroachment.
“The dragons’ future is threatened by development and human encroachment.”
The less than 6,000 dragons alive today inhabit the world’s fourth most populous nation. The dragons’ home islands cover approximately 800 square miles near the busiest shipping routes of one of the world’s fastest growing regions. The lizards cling to their natural habitat under the protection of a UNESCO World Heritage designation.
“The less than 6,000 dragons alive today inhabit the world’s fourth most populous nation.”
Four of the five islands are part of Komodo National Park. The other, Flores, is a rapidly growing tourist area and the staging point for exploring the region. New facilities are being built at the park’s major entrances, partly to accommodate the day cruise ships that unload more than 1,000 visitors at a time.
In addition to facing competition from humans for local deer, boars, goats, and other food sources, the dragons contribute to their own extinction by serving as delinquent parents. Mothers will diligently watch over their eggs until they hatch, but as soon as the babies are born, they are abandoned. Newborn dragons climb up trees to eat insects and smaller creatures until they are big and strong enough to defend themselves against the larger dragons waiting below.
“The dragons contribute to their own extinction by serving as delinquent parents.”
The Lesser Sunda Islands, like the habitats of many endangered species, must be preserved and maintained in the face of an increasing number of human visitors. Although the islands are still slightly out of the way for a typical tourist in Indonesia, they are expected to become part of a regular travel circuit within the next few years. Thus, these last dragons may soon face extinction.