The Komodo dragon has earned its standing as a reptilian icon.
The carnivorous lizard can develop as much as 10 ft lengthy and is supplied with a forked tongue, serrated tooth, armored scales and venom-laced saliva. The dragons can detect flesh from miles away whereas looking a formidable array of prey, together with deer, boars, horses, water buffalo — and each other. Females are even recognized to eat their very own offspring.
“It’s got this fearsome reputation,” mentioned Craig Hilton-Taylor, a biologist with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “It’s like seeing your storybooks come alive.”
But now, the world’s largest residing lizard has moved one step nearer to being worn out within the wild.
Komodo dragons, beforehand thought of a “vulnerable” species, had been reclassified final weekend as “endangered” by the conservation group.
“It’s had a genuine change in status, a deterioration,” mentioned Mr. Hilton-Taylor, head of the worldwide group’s Red List unit, which assesses the conservation danger of 138,000 species and counting. “It’s moving toward extinction.”
The new label is meant to spur worldwide policymakers and conservation teams to strengthen and broaden protections for the enormous lizard in its pure habitats. That could also be particularly obligatory amongst a inhabitants of the dragons that dwell in areas that aren’t protected and which are extra susceptible to actions akin to unlawful looking and habitat clearance.
“It rings the alarm bells more loudly,” mentioned Andrew Terry, a conservation director on the Zoological Society of London. “It increases the urgency to act.”
Komodo dragons are native to Indonesia and discovered within the nation’s Komodo National Park, a UNESCO world heritage web site that features the namesake island and plenty of different islands. A extra poorly understood inhabitants of the species additionally lives on Flores, a bigger, neighboring island.
While consultants take into account the nationwide park’s Komodo dragon inhabitants to be secure and well-protected, the species nonetheless faces mounting obstacles to its long-term survival. Komodo dragons are significantly susceptible to environmental adjustments as a result of they inhabit a restricted belt of land between the islands’ coasts and steep forested hills.
“They’re quite tight, in terms of where they can live,” mentioned Gerardo Garcia, a conservation biologist on the Chester Zoo in England who has spent nearly a decade working with Komodo dragon safety efforts in Indonesia.
Climate change, city encroachment and agriculture threaten Komodo dragons, particularly in locations the place they aren’t protected.Credit…Lauryn Ishak for The New York Times
The International Union for Conservation of Nature warns that appropriate Komodo dragon habitat is anticipated to shrink by a minimum of 30 p.c within the subsequent 45 years. Factors driving this habitat loss embody the rising temperatures and sea ranges related to local weather change. But outdoors of the dragons’ park protected haven, urbanization and agricultural clearing are additionally elements. On Flores, residents compete with the dragons for deer and boars as effectively, and take into account the carnivorous lizards a risk to cattle, goats and different livestock.
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“These animals get persecuted,” Dr. Garcia mentioned. Despite their world charisma, he mentioned, “they do not have a magic shield.”
Their ranks have already skilled a steep decline. About 25 years in the past, someplace from 5,000 to eight,000 Komodo dragons roamed the Earth. Today, the I.U.C.N. estimates that there are simply 1,380 grownup Komodo dragons and one other 2,000 juveniles left within the wild. “The real concern is what’s going to happen in the future,” Mr. Hilton-Taylor mentioned.
Other reptilian species — lots of that are additionally remoted on islands — are susceptible to the identical threats. “It’s a flagship for the state of reptiles worldwide,” Dr. Terry mentioned.
If Komodo dragons drop previous a critically endangered standing, they may turn into what’s generally known as “extinct in the wild,” and survive solely in captivity. “I think that would be an awful indictment,” he mentioned. “Nobody working in a zoo is happy to see a species only existing in a zoo.”
Dr. Garcia likened the latest reclassification to coming into an emergency room. “If we don’t react quickly, we’re going to have very few animals,” he mentioned. “That means you go to intensive care.”
At that time, the one hope for Komodo dragons could be a precarious one: a captive breeding program and tried transplants to restricted and fragmented wild habitats. But consultants say it hasn’t come to that — but.
“This is the last chance,” Dr. Garcia mentioned. “We still have a bit of time.”