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KOMODO ISLAND

Komodo National Park is widely known as the home of the giant lizard - Komodo Dragon - and has recently been declared to be one of the latest heritage sites in the world. Komodo National Park is nestled between eastern Sumbawa and western Flores. The Komodo National Park is formed by three tiny grass-covered islands Komodo, Padar and Rinca and the area is a protected wildlife reserve. This is the home of the giant lizard known as the "Komodo Dragon" it was thought to be a myth until the turn of the century, when fishermen, who were forced by a storm to take shelter on Komodo, sighted the monsters.

The Komodo (varanus Komodoensies) is the largest monitor lizard and when full grown, measures up to 3.13 meters (10feet 2 inches) in length and can weigh up to 165.9kg (365pounds). They are fearsome creatures with enormous jaws, squat muscular legs and sharp claws. Preying on live deer, goats and wild pigs, they lie in wait hidden in the long grass.  Direct ancestors of the Komodo dragons (Varanidae family) lived 50 million years ago. Komodo dragons may have descended from a larger lizard from Java or from Australia (Megalania Prisca) which existed about 30,000 years ago.

The dragon survives primarily on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores and Padar. Despite government protection, its existence is threatened by the depletion of its chief food, deer and wild boar due to over-hunting by the native people. The Komodo dragon has a broad head and a thick, muscular neck; the body is flattened, and the tail is as long as the trunk and head. Its powerful legs carry the body well off the ground. The skin and scales of the adult are gray-brown.

The Komodo dragon often preys upon deer and wild boar. Food is devoured with the help of long claws and serrated teeth, used to tear large chunks of meat from a sizable kill. This feeding strategy is rare among reptiles, which commonly swallow prey whole. The Komodo dragon hunts during the day, mainly for live prey, but it will also eat carrion. A keen sense of smell brings other dragons from great distances to a kill. The smaller dragons are kept at bay until the larger lizards have gorged enough to satisfy their appetite for as long as a week. Young lizards feed also an insects and small mammals, reptiles, and birds.

Young dragons spend most of their time in trees but dragons over 1.5m long can not climb well as dragons over 2 meters are too heavy to climb trees. The Komodo dragons are constantly regulating their body temperatures. In the early morning, they must warm-up their bodies in the sun. If their body temperature drops too low, the food in their stomach can rot and cause regurgitation or even death. However, the Komodo dragon's body temperature must not exceed 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit). When it is too hot, they must rest and seek shade to prevent their body from over-heating. Dragons are most active from 6 - 10am in the morning and again from 3 - 5pm in the afternoon. During the rainy season. Komodo dragons stay in burrows if they are cold. Komodo dragons sleep at night because it is usually too cool for them to be active. They will sleep where they will not loose too much heat at the edge of the savanna and monsoon forest or in burrows. The average sleeping burrow is only 75cm to 1.25m in length. The Komodo dragons will use the burrows of rodents, palm civets, wild boar, porcupine (on Flores) and those made by other Komodo dragons. Nesting burrows are about 2 meters long. The Komodo dragon lives in one of the driest areas in Indonesia and there are few permanent water sources.
 

 

When frightened, Komodo dragons can run up to 18km/h for a short distance. Usually, they run at a slow trot of 8 - 10km/h. The largest Komodo dragon measured weighed 165.9kg (365pounds). Large dragons usually weigh up to 90kg. It is hard to tell the difference between male and female dragons. However, males have a special scale pattern at the based of their tail. generally, males grow larger than females. The largest recorded Komodo dragon length is 3.13m (10feet 2 inches). Female Komodo dragons rarely grow over 2.5m (7feet 6 inches) in length. Scientist believe that Komodo dragons can live up to 50 years, maybe longer. Komodo dragons can swim at least 500m. However, they become sluggish in the water because the water cools their body temperature down.

Fossils bearing a strong resemblance have been unearthed from chalk deposits dating back 130 million years, about the end of the age of Dinosaurs. The few inhabitants dwelling on Komodo today have built their houses on stilts right next to the sea, and survive by fishing, as the land is dry and arid and almost impossible to cultivate. The water surrounding the islands are rich in colorful corals, fish and shellfish but there are hazardous rip tides and strong currents which make diving too risky for the novice.

Population and Habitat
There are about 3,300 Komodo dragons in the Komodo National Park and in Flores. A 1996/97 survey showed 1,687 Komodo dragons on Komodo island and 1,223 on Rinca Island. For every female, there are about 3 males. Perhaps the small percentage of females is a natural response to keep the Komodo dragon populations from growing too quickly. Komodo dragons are only found in Komodo, Rinca, Gili Motang, and small part of north and west Flores island. Over recent times they have disappeared on Padar. Dragons can be found almost everywhere on Komodo and Rinca in the monsoon forest, the savanna, on the beach, in the mangrove swamps and in burrows with the younger dragon often found in the trees. The Komodo dragon's range is mostly from sea level to 450m above sea level.

Reproduction
Female dragons start mating when they are 7 years old and male dragons start mating when they are 8 years old. The mating season of the Komodo dragon is from July to August. Female dragons lay up to 30 eggs. The average number of eggs is 18 per clutch and only one clutch per year and they lay their eggs in a burrow. Often they use the mound of the scrub fowl. The female dragon digs several false tunnels so that predators cannot easily find the eggs. The dragons eggs incubate for 8 - 9 months. The eggs hatch in March - April. The average size of Komodo dragon eggs are 8.6cm long, with a diameter of 5.9cm and a weight of approximately 105 grams. The eggs are about the size of swan eggs. The shells are soft and leathery. The average length of the newborn is 30.4cm but their size can vary from 28cm to 55cm and the average weight is 80.3 grams.

Fauna on Komodo Island
The many animals in Komodo National Park are an important part of the ecology of Komodo dragons. The Komodo dragon is top predator in its environment and all animals in the park are potential prey of the Komodo dragon. The fauna is a combination of Asia and Australian species including 277 animals species, of which 25 are protected. These include 32 mammal species, 90 bird species and 36 reptile species. MAMMALS
The most commonly seen mammals of Komodo National Park include : Timor deer, wild boar, wild horses, water buffalo and crab-eating macaques, palm civet, bats, mice and Rats. The Komodo dragons will prey or scavenge on the remains of all these animals.

The birds in Komodo National park represent a mixture of Asian and Australian species. Some birds are eaten mainly by medium-sized dragons.
Lesser Sulpher-crested cockatoos, Noisy friarbird, Orange - footed Scrub Fowl, Wallacean Drongo, Gree Jungle Fowl, Green Imperial Pigeon, Black-napped Oriele, Collared Kingfishers, Great-billed heron, White-bellied Sea Eagle

Komodo dragons eat a variety of reptiles, including snakes, skinks and other types of lizards. Other creatures on the islands of Komodo National Park include spiders, amphibians, butterflies, grasshoppers and other insects.

Dolphins, whales and sea turtles are often seen in the straits between the islands, and a rare species of giant seawater crocodile has been sighted on isolated beaches. The underwater life and its ecosystems is well known as some of the best diving sites in the world. From beautiful coral, reefs, endless varieties of fish can be seen in the crystal water as well as stretches of beautiful beaches.

Climate on Komodo Island
Different temperatures during the year in different habitats will influence the Komodo dragon's range. Rain falls mainly from December to March and is less then 800mm per year. The climate is strongly effected by the monsoon winds and the amount of moisture they bring in. From April to October, dry south-east trade winds from Australia bring very little moisture to the area. From January to February, the north-west monsoon comes in from Asia. The wind brings moisture with it, but most of the moisture is dropped over west Indonesia before it reaches the park. The highest annual temperature in the park is 43 degrees Celsius, the minimum is 17 degrees Celsius. November is the hottest month of the year. The hottest part of the day is at noon and just afterwards. Komodo dragons seek shade and rest when the temperature is too warm.

The highest humidity is in February at 86%. The lowest humidity is in October at 75%. Komodo dragons are less active in high humidity and in rain. Traveling during the wet season is preferable if you wish to see the green forest.

Geography of Komodo Island
The islands of Komodo National Park are generally young, oceanic volcanic islands which are constantly rising, eroding, and subsiding into the sea. West Komodo was probably the first to form from volcanic activity in the Jurassic period about 130 - 134 million years ago. East Komodo, Padar and Rinca are younger and probably emerged in the Eocene era about 49 million years ago.

Komodo National Park, encompasses over 173.300 ha of 40.728 hectare of land and 132.572 hectare of sea. Three of the largest islands, Komodo (33.937 ha) Rinca (19.625 ha) and Padar (2.017 ha make up the larges areas of land. Land topography is rugged with the highest point 735 m at Mount Satalibo.

There are no active volcanoes in the park although the islands are located in one of the world's most active volcanic belts, tremors from this active volcanic belt are common. The closest active volcano last erupted in 1975. Gunung Sangeang Api located northwest of Komodo Island last erupted in 1997 and is still smoking from the northern peak.

Marine Eco System on Komodo Park
The are three main types of tropical coastal marine ecosystem: Coral Reefs ; Sea-grass Beds and Mangrove Habitats

Coral reefs are a community of many different marine plants and animals, both living and dead. The first reefs developed about 400 million years ago, but modern reef have only existed for some 5 million years. The physical structure of the reef is mainly made of limestone from hard coral skeletons; however the remains of other organisms that contain calcium carbonate material also adds to the reef structure (such as shells of clams, and forms). Over time, broken bits of coral skeleton and calcium carbonate material are cemented together by a type of red coralline algae and by magnesium calcite particles found in the sea water.

The reefs of Komodo National Park are an important habitat for about 1000 species of fishes, over 250 species of reef-building corals, and at least 105 species of crustaceans and 70 species of sponges. Coral reefs are also important for shore-line protection and are source of pharmaceutical compounds such as anti-cancer agents.

Mangroves are a special tree that can live in salty soil or water. Part of the mangrove root is above the water so that it can take carbon dioxide from the air. Some mangroves have seeds that float in the sea until they find suitable ground to grow on. Other mangroves have long pods which germinate on the tree and then drop into the mud below the parent tree. Komodo National Park has 18 different kinds of mangrove trees.

There are a total of over 2,300 people living in the 3 villages in the park. Komodo village has 1400 people, Rinca village has 1074 people and Kerora Village has 223 people. In Komodo village, most people are originally from Bima (East Sumbawa), Selayar (South Sulawesi) and Manggarai (West Flores). In Rinca village, the people come from much the same places as Komodo village but there are also Bajo people from Sulawesi. In Kerora village, the people originally came from Bima and Manggarai.

There is some evidence that the original people of Komodo lived on Gunung Ara. Trees such as jackfruit, coconut and mango, as well as remains of ceramics on Gunung Ara suggest that people once inhabited that area several hundred years ago. However, the people of Komodo village are thought to have settled there less than 100 years ago. There is a story that the settler of Komodo village were exiles from Bima. Most people who live in the park are fishermen, but there are also merchants and teachers. Some people carve Komodo dragons for sale to the visitors.

The only accommodation available for Komodo Island is in simple guesthouses in the fishing village or a couple of range type facilities at the main area of the National Park. It is advisable to carry food supplies. The best time to visit the island is between March and June, and between October and December. Komodo is accessible from the sea only. Fly to Labuhan Bajo, in Flores from where it is about 3-4 hours by boat to the island. more accommodation for Komodo Island
 

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