#250      31 min 10 sec
Komodo to our place: In the field with the giant monitor lizard


Integrative ecologist Dr Tim Jessop talks about the fascinating biology and the ecology of the Komodo dragon -- the largest lizard in the world. Presented by Dr Shane Huntington.

"Most people don't know Komodo dragons vary fourfold in body mass.  There's actually dwarf Komodo dragons on small islands and the giant Komodo dragons on the big islands." -- Dr Tim Jessop




Dr Tim Jessop
Dr Tim Jessop

Dr Tim Jessop is an integrative ecologist who studies the effects of environmental, ecological and anthropogenic disturbances on animal physiology, ecology and evolutionary biology. His primary research goal is to understand how disturbance processes act on the fitness of individuals to shape population and even community dynamics. His research interests span two areas: the significance of stress hormones in vertebrate ecology and evolution; and applied vertebrate ecology and conservation research. Tim uses highly integrative studies that investigate individual, population and community level processes to holistically understand how animals respond to their environment. Complementing this multi-scale approach, he also adopts different methods drawn from landscape genetics, comparative physiology, population and behavioural ecology to further diversify data collection. The entire rationale for this approach is to provide multi-modal inference to ensure cross-validation of knowledge across multiple tiers of research information.

Credits

Host: Dr Shane Huntington
Producers: Eric van Bemmel, Kelvin Param, Dyani Lewis
Audio Engineers: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Nerissa Hannink
Series Creators: Kelvin Param & Eric van Bemmel
Research photos: Achmad Ariefiandy

View Tags  click a tag to find other episodes associated with it.

Download file Download mp3 (28.5 MB)

VOICEOVER 
Welcome to Up Close, the research talk show from the University of Melbourne, Australia. 

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
I’m Shane Huntington.  Thanks for joining us.  Life in the wild can be tough.  Competition for food, territory and a suitable mate can be fierce and that's without even considering the threat of becoming a meal to a watchful predator.  There are many things that can take you to an early grave but if you are particularly unlucky you will be taken by a Komodo dragon.  The largest lizard in the world, the Komodo dragon is a fearsome apex predator with a gruesome method of killing its prey but, as with many predators, it too has its vulnerabilities.  Found on just a handful of islands of Indonesia, Komodo dragons are as complex as they are fascinating and we are joined today by Dr Tim Jessop who has been studying these intriguing creatures for the past decade.  Tim is an integrative ecologist with the Conservation and Wildlife Biology Research Group in the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne.  Welcome to Up Close, Tim.

TIM JESSOP 
Thanks very much Shane.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Tim, you've been working on Komodo dragons for about the last 10 years.  Can you describe the Komodo for us and tell us what it is about these animals that makes them particularly special in the animal kingdom?

TIM JESSOP 
Two things really stick out in my mind what makes a Komodo dragon especially impressive.  First is their great body size.  They are the world's largest lizard.  They get up to about three metres long, so 10 feet, and in the case of the largest males they also weigh up to about 90 kilos so more than an average man.  So they're very, very large indeed and, I guess, secondly what is quite impressive about these animals, they're one of the very few examples of a reptile being the top predator or an apex predator and really dominating predation role in the environment of these islands in which they exist.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Now, they have a very limited habitat.  Where do we find them?

TIM JESSOP 
Well, if people know Indonesia, most people will have some idea where Bali is.  If you basically sort of turn east, jump on a plane for an hour and a half you have to fly over Lombok next to Bali and then Sumbawa and then you drop down into Flores.  Between Flores and Sumbawa are a group of small islands that make up Komodo National Park.  Now, these islands aren't very big.  They're only about 300 to 200 square hundred kilometres but here on four of these islands and also on Flores you will find populations of these lizards.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Give us an idea of what the habitat is like there for the Komodos.  Are we talking about a very dry, very hot environment?  Is it tropical or what is it that they like about these particular islands?
TIM JESSOP 
The islands out there are actually very different from most parts of how I guess people perceive Indonesia which is around tropical lush jungle but these islands are very different.  I mean, they're more like savannah grassland with kind of quite dry sort of forests, actually deciduous forests.  So at the end of the dry season out there all the leaves tend to fall off the trees so it looks quite stark and brown and very dry.  And part of the reason that is, some very seasonal climate out there so they virtually have no rain for nine months of the year and then over the wet season, which occurs from November to January, we have a very intense but short rainy period which turns everything back to life again and makes it very vibrant green.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Komodo dragons have this reputation for being quite fearsome animals.  I suspect part of this is because of the way they kill their prey.  Can you describe this process because it's very unusual, isn't it?

TIM JESSOP 
Yes, look, the really interesting thing about Komodo dragons is that they sort of go through all these different hunting strategies.  They obviously start out being very small lizards at about 100 grams and when they're like that they're pretty much tied to trees.  They're arboreal and there they'll have to feed on grasshoppers and they'll stay up in these trees for about three or four years perhaps because it's actually safer than rummaging around on the ground where they're probably prey with other Komodos.  So after about three or four years they get to about two or three kilos and then they begin to move down out of the tree tops onto the ground and begin to start hunting all manner of prey.The main thing about Komodos is that they really can eat anything that fits into the mouth.  So, as they grow, probably at around five or six years, they're getting to about 14 or 15 kilograms and the problem for them now becomes really that it's getting very expensive in terms of the costs of energy to forage looking for lots of small prey and they have to make a very different decision about how to trade off energy for activity. And I guess, food gain through prey killing and this is where we begin to see a very stark transition in their hunting strategy.  And they move from this very active foraging lizard to what becomes the classic sort of ambush predator and once they do that at around the 15 to 20 kilogram mark then their sights are set very clearly on very large prey including the largest prey found on that island which happens to be very large mammals such as a Timor deer which is a deer that's about 70 kilos, wild boar, so feral pigs that weigh about 40 or 50 kilograms and, in some cases and in some places, where they've developed a hunting culture, they can also bring down water buffalo which are very, very large.  They're about 600 kilograms so very large mammal prey, as large as anything that gets brought down by any predator around the world except this is a lizard rather than a mammal.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Describe the process that a Komodo would go through to bring down something like a water buffalo.  I can't imagine a single bite in terms of just the raw damage it does being enough to kill an animal of that size.

TIM JESSOP 
It is almost cultural so the hunting of buffalo doesn't take place everywhere.  It really only happens in particular places and it looks like, in some areas, it's sort of I guess aided by the environment.  So the buffalo go down into these water holes and the dragons will go in there and what they're trying to do at this stage is they can't, obviously, inflict a large fatal bite.  What they will try and do is probably immobilise the animal.  Once they immobilise it then they're able to, for lack of a better word, just get in there and eat it piece by piece until it's basically eviscerated and then consumed after several days of chomping at it.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Tim, you've mentioned a number of prey that are significantly large in size.  Humans fall into the same category.  Are we also prey for the Komodo dragon on these islands as we would be for other apex predators like sharks and lions and tigers?

TIM JESSOP 
Yes, unfortunately the answer is that from time to time dragons do make attacks on villages or indeed some of the national park's staff.  We tend to find that most of these attacks are only associated around human settlements and rarely ever in the wild.  There are no documented cases of Komodos taking people out from these areas.  Over the last couple of years, for example, it's become what we consider an increasing problem that there have been an obvious increase in the number of attacks of dragons around the villages and indeed the rangers' post have inflicted on people. The park is quite concerned about this at the moment and really what they're trying to do is how to work out how to deal with it.  They've basically come up with the idea of the green dragon and what the green dragon basically means is that they catch the culprit dragon, they paint it bright green and then they translocate it or move it often 15 to 20 kilometres somewhere else on the island.  But the problem is that the green dragons think they're onto a good wicket at the moment and they've basically been returning back to the places where they indeed inflicted the attacks in the first place.  So we're trying to think about other ways of trying to separate the humans from dragons so that these unpleasant interactions don't continue to persist.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Now, I understand that there is a particularly strong bacterial component in the mouth of the Komodo dragon.  How does that have an impact on the way in which they hunt?  
TIM JESSOP 
Okay, so the main thing for any predator is that you want to kill your prey outright.  I mean, that's the most efficient way of doing it but, in many cases, prey do escape and if they do escape then they do carry these wounds and they're often quite large wounds.  If you can imagine your own leg where you've suddenly had maybe a large steak ripped off it, that's the type of wound that a Komodo dragon will deliver.  It basically sheers off a large amount of muscle which really immobilises the animal, stops it running away but, in some cases, that doesn't always work.Now, if these animals are able to basically evade the initial attack then they'll walk around carrying a very large bite that's basically been impregnated with lots of saliva and we believe in the saliva there are a couple of things.  There's both highly septic bacteria as you will find in bite wounds from many animals but also some proto-venoms as well that may also assist in terms of stopping that prey maybe one or two days later.It's quite interesting, once those animals do escape then they become contested and so a deer will walk off in the forest and it will suddenly get picked up by four or five other dragons and maybe not even the initial dragon that induced the bite or the wound. And, basically, what we have now is a waiting game where the deer keeps walking and the dragons keep following until they basically catch up with it when it's in shock or fatigued or indeed suffering from blood poisoning and then the fatal deed is done.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Tim, can you give us an idea of how much one of the dragons consumes in a day?  We're talking about a 90 kilogram reptile here that has a presumably relatively high expenditure of energy to track down some of these animals.  What are the requirements for a Komodo dragon in a given day?

TIM JESSOP 
Well, these guys are certainly eating quite itinerantly, if you will.  Their hunting strategy is basically ambush so they basically have to wait until the prey comes across their path.  They lurch out and then they attack and, as I've said already, many of the times that this may not be successful so they'll actually probably feed in terms of a major meal once every couple of weeks or so or every two to three weeks.  And when they do get that opportunity then they really do gorge themselves.  They will sit down and put on 20 to 30 to 40 kilograms of prey inside their belly.  We've actually measured them before eating buffalo and after eating buffalo and by the time you've had two hours of gorging on buffalo they actually do consume about 20 to 25 kilograms in a single feed.  So it's quite a huge amount of energy that they're putting on but it's certainly not a daily occurrence.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
I'm Shane Huntington and you're listening to Up Close.  In this episode we're talking about the Komodo dragon, the world's largest lizard with ecologist, Tim Jessop.Tim, one of the aspects of the Komodo dragons that you've been studying in particular is that of life span.  It seems surprising to me that the life span of these particular creatures has not been studied before.  Why is it that it's taken so long for people to investigate what would be a critical issue for a species endangered?

TIM JESSOP 
That's a really great question.  I think the general problem with all wild animals is that it's very difficult to get very good life history data without spending considerable amounts of time following them through time or actually indeed knowing the age of when animals were born.  So that's the general rules that stop people looking at something and going that's 22 years old.  So when you want to make age estimates of wild populations you actually need to mark them and begging to get this sort of history of individuals across time and their growth records so that you have a fairly good record.But in the case of very long lived animals, such as big reptiles which are quite slow growing and presumably very long lived, then that takes a lot of work and a lot of research to basically get somewhere near the amount of information that you need to make estimates on their life cycle and life history.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Is the process made easier by the fact that this is an apex predator so is it more likely that this particular beast will die of old age so you get that real true understanding of how long they can live?

TIM JESSOP 
I certainly think that's a really big thing about it.  It's very hard to know the actual mortality of most animals in wild populations simply because they're gone when they're old but you never actually see them senesce so Komodos are very unusual in that aspect because they really are the only big predator out there.  So they're not under any predation pressure themselves so you actually do get that strange opportunity to watch them grow old, get feeble and drop dead and, in the case of the males, that may happen after 60 to 65 years.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Now, what exactly did you find in terms of the overall species of Komodos and their life spans?  I understand there is a bit of a difference between the males and the females in this group?

TIM JESSOP 
Yes, there's a striking difference in the age or life expectancy between male and female Komodo dragons and the females unfortunately in this case, tend to live a lot less.  In fact, about half the life expectancy of males and that's quite a striking difference.  So it's basically looking somewhere between females are living close to about 30 years and then after that there's really no evidence that they're living any longer and the males are really persisting and living much longer.  In fact, up to about another 30 years longer so they really are dying around about 65 years so a massive discrepancy between males and females.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Do we have an understanding of what's going on there Tim?  The immediate question, of course, comes down to the breeding in the species and at what point in the female life cycle that is happening.  Is it terminating well before that 30 year period?  What's happening in terms of the production of the species?

TIM JESSOP 
Okay, so the females are appearing to die or not live as long and we think the major reason behind that is really about the costs of reproduction.  In many animals where you have very big size differences and the females are smaller than the males which is often the case, this often suggests that females are really geared towards trying to reproduce when they're small and young.  In the case of Komodo dragons, particularly the females, their costs of reproduction appear to be very high.  We can measure these costs in a number of ways and it's not only in terms of the energy that they put into the eggs but it's actually I guess the amount of time that they spend building these really elaborate detailed nests which takes a huge amount of energy.The other thing that Komodo dragons, or the females do, is also guard their nests for very long periods, up to four to five months and during that time it looks like they're really reducing their feeding activity and their ability to take on more energy.  So after five or six months of this reproductive event they're very, very emaciated and it's probably, I hate to say it, but really literally taking years off their life.  It's a very, very hard act.  It's a very physically demanding, energetically challenging reproductive event and we think that doing that several times in succession is probably enough to explain why females are living much shorter than males.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Are the males reproductively active through a longer period of their life?  You mentioned they could live up to 60-odd years.  Are they reproducing late into that life or at they also terminating their reproductive activities earlier on?

TIM JESSOP 
The males are also under some constraints but the clear difference about them is their very large body size.  So they may well be physiologically reproductively active at a relatively small size but whether they actually get any opportunity would probably be determined by their body size.  Often when you see these very large differences between males and females and body size it's a very clear indication that females are probably choosing very large dominant strong males.  So it means that for many of the smaller males they're probably getting occluded from any reproductive opportunity until they are a very large size.We presume that males can breed as long as they're capable of it but, as I say, they are one of the few species where you see senesce so presumably there are some very old dragons out there that aren't particularly lucky in terms of getting access to females in their later years.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Do we see other animals around that have a similar discrepancy in age between males and females or is the Komodo quite unique in this regard?

TIM JESSOP 
From a vertebrate animal perspective, it seems that these very big life discrepancies are relatively unusual but if you look across nature in general then there are all manner of diversity in life histories and insects are probably, you know,  incredibly diverse.  So you might have much, much larger relative age differences between the sexes but from an animal or a vertebrate perspective, it is quite a large discrepancy.  We can think about humans, for example, where even historically it was probably on 10 to 15 years in terms of the life history differences between men and females and obviously that gap's continuing to close.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Tim when we consider this major role played by the female in taking care of its young in the early stages and that massive energy investment, is it worth it in terms of the number of young that are produced by the Komodo?  Normally when we think of larger animals we usually think of very small numbers of offspring in a given round.

TIM JESSOP 
Yes the quintessential question from any biologist is how animals balance survival and the things that they need to do to reconcile. And a big part of that's really about reproduction and the number of offspring that you should produce.  In the case of female Komodo dragons, we think they're producing on average somewhere between 15 and about 25 individuals every time that they breed.  Now, that's not a lot, I mean, if you're thinking about sea turtles which is another example of a long lived animal and they probably lay probably on average up to four or five hundred individuals.  In a single breeding event, it's much less so what that indicates to us straight away is that there must be fairly high offspring survival.  So when these baby dragons which incubated in their eggs for nine months under the ground, crawl out from their nests and climb into the trees then they must have to have very high survivorship to basically make sure that that population is remaining stable or indeed growing and indeed enabling these animals to persist over ecological and evolutionary time.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Given the average female lives about 30 years and you mentioned they have 15 to 25 offspring, how many times will a female breed in its lifetime?
TIM JESSOP 
That's one of those million dollar questions because at the end of the day, it's really what will determine the potential of a population persists.  Komodo dragons, at least from what we can gain from our data so far, it seems that females can breed in successive years but if they don't quite get the energy that they need then they will need to skip a year.  So we think they're reaching sexual maturity somewhere between eight to 10 years in the wild which is much slower obviously than in captivity. So it is certainly probably having, I would say, as a guesstimate six to ten breeding events and that's probably about it and they are basically consumed by that great ordeal and actually die much earlier than the males.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Extraordinary, that's still 100-odd offspring potentially.

TIM JESSOP 
That's right and for these long lived animals, the females are really key to the success of the population both in terms of how many offspring that they're actually having and also the number of breeding events in their lifetime.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Tim, island habitats such as the Galapagos or, for example, Madagascar can result in some very peculiar animals.  Why is this and did being on just a few islands help to make the Komodo dragon the strange beast that we're seeing today?

TIM JESSOP 
Islands are just wonderful kind of hotpots of evolution and they're really famous in that aspect for driving the processes that lead to speciation.  In the case of Indonesia, we know that it's the second most biodiverse country after Brazil and really it's about having 13,000 islands and if you imagine they're kind of like punctuated environments.  They're all quite isolated and so things that are on one island tend to have very different histories of exposure across time and evolution and it often leads to this great disparate variation in form and function that arises in animals so that you do end up with this great diversity of very variable animals that often come from very similar ancestors.So I think, again, this is just a classic example with the Komodos that they're out there, they live on these islands very, very differently in terms of the amount of prey that enables them to basically vary a lot in themselves.  Most people don't know Komodo dragons vary fourfold in body mass.  There's actually dwarf Komodo dragons on small islands and the giant Komodo dragons on the big islands.  Yes, again, this island phenomenon is very important to explaining how we get so much variation in life.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Now, you mentioned that there are these multiple islands and there are some differences between the Komodos.  How long ago were these islands connected and what specific differences do we see between the populations on these various islands?

TIM JESSOP 
Most islands, particularly when they're on shallow continental shelves - the Sunda shelf is where islands where Komodo dragons exist.  They've been exposed to very significant sea level changes over the last 100,000 years so there's been two major sea level changes.  Throughout those kind of glacial periods where sea level drops a lot then you do get this re-bridging or connection between islands and the last one was about 10,000 years ago where we really saw probably about three out of those five islands which the dragons live on and join up again, become a single unit.  I mean that has major effects on the evolution in itself but Komodo which is the most, I guess, iconic island for where the dragons are found it's been separated for a very, very long time.  Perhaps it hasn't seen contact with other populations for about 80,000 years.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
These are quite old animals historically.  When you look at them you can see that almost dinosaur characteristic to them.  Are there examples of Komodo remains being found anywhere else in the world or is this a restricted population that only occurs in the vicinity of Indonesia?

TIM JESSOP 
If you talk about varanid lizards which Komodos are a part of, they're found all over the world and they all do have very different kind of ages or histories.  The distinguishing feature about Komodos is obviously their body size and we don't see any other lizards with that type of body size currently but there certainly were many examples in the recent past including in Australia where we had even much bigger varanid or monitor lizards that would have dwarfed or made the Komodo dragons look like small geckos.  We had this thing called Megalania prisca which was five metres long and weighed up to about 300 kilos, 400 kilos and that was probably only about 40,000 to 50,000 years ago.So there are certainly lots of historical examples of very giant monitor lizards running around Australia but elsewhere in the world really the Komodo's only the last example of what appears to be a very giant form of a lizard.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
I'm Shane Huntington and my guest today is integrative ecologist, Tim Jessop.  We're talking about the world's largest lizard, the Komodo dragon, here on Up Close.Tim, these are not small creatures.  They're not nice little furry creatures that you can easily catch and tag.  You've been working with them for a decade.  How do you go about monitoring them and interacting with them?

TIM JESSOP 
I wish there was an easy way of monitoring Komodo dragons but it's actually been an insidious chore that's plagued my life for the last 10 years and when I took this project on in 2002 it was quite funny because it was a project that was bequeathed from the San Diego Zoo and they said here Tim, here's a lot of cash, you go out into the wild and do something good for us and there was quite a deliberation on what to do initially.  But what was quite clearly evident was that we had really no good ideas about the population size or the estimates of abundance of these dragons and, for some reason, that seems to be a very common question that everyone wants to know, how many dragons are left, how many dragons are on this island and we simply don't know in most cases because we haven't done the work to ascertain it.So naively, we, I guess, set out on how to try and solve that problem and the only way that we could really do it was to undertake what is quite a massive field research study where we had to set up hundreds and hundreds of trapping sites.  The difficult thing about working on these islands is that there's no roads, there's no cars, there's no access to helicopters.  Everything has to be done on foot and by manual labour. So we actually have to carry traps and the traps are big.  They have to be bigger than the dragons obviously and it takes three people to carry one trap and we have to trap hundreds and hundreds of sites per year so it takes us about six months of moving around these different sites laying out these big traps.In that time I've actually become a very - I guess an expert  on choosing goats because I have to buy tens of goats each year for bait and really, it's quite an expedition and quite an ordeal to really monitor these animals.  I think all of us, after 10 years, are going I hope there's some easier way of doing it because it is very physically demanding but it has paid off.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Now, I'm not going to ask you how many dragons there are.  Let me ask you a different question.  Do we have a sustainable population of Komodo dragons on these islands?

TIM JESSOP 
Again, across these islands they vary a lot and if you asked the question are they stable or not stable, really depends on the island that you're looking at.  I would say that on the major islands, the two biggest islands, where there's reasonably good protection and enforcement from the national park and there's very little clash with humans who are wanting to use the landscape for other uses then we have relatively stable populations.  But that's quite different from the small island populations that are very, very small and classic sort of less than 100 individuals and probably will suffer from the same fate that many small island populations do which is to blink in and blink out for a number of different reasons.  And even if there's no human intervention or no human exacerbation on that habitat those small island populations are certainly looking like they're more at risk.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
When it comes to human intervention the Komodo National Park was established to protect these incredible animals.  When was that park established and what were the main threats to the dragon populations that the park was trying to protect against?

TIM JESSOP 
The park was basically gazetted in 1988 and the threats at the time were really more about controlling poaching of prey.  There are several villages, not necessarily on Komodo Island or on Rintja Island where the big populations still persist that hunt prey but there are neighbouring islands where there are certainly poachers that will come in from time to time and take out their prey.  So one of the key initiatives of the national park was to establish ranger posts throughout the islands to really increase the level of enforcement and security to ensure that the habitat is safely protected and they've done a really good job at it.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
You've been looking at them for a while.  Have the dragon populations changed much that you can see during that period?

TIM JESSOP 
To me the populations look relatively similar.  They have responded to us in some ways in the way that we study them.  They are quite intelligent animals and so when we trap them they liked it on some of the islands for the first couple of years but they've also learned to be incredibly trap shy.  It's quite bizarre because you will basically see dragons now that would have loved to have gone in and got a free meal of goat who now just stand outside longingly looking at the bait inside the trap but won't go inside them.  So we have almost complete trap aversion on some of these small islands so it means we can no longer really use these trapping methods to catch them.Some behavioural changes like that but in terms of any other more sort of morphological or body shape changes or anything like that they still seem to be constant and part of that it's still 10 years in the life of Komodo dragons, kind of like a couple of seconds I guess.  We still need to monitor them for much longer.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
The trapping and examination is one thing, what about the routine monitoring?  Do you do that in person? Is it done remotely?  How do you keep track of what's going on in their habitats and the way they're interacting with those habitats?

TIM JESSOP 
Well, we measure quite a lot of different things when we monitor.  When we go out there we know on islands there are a number of key processes that you need to watch out for.  These include things like inbreeding, the availability of food.  If the prey of these animals is going up or down then you should expect some response in the dragons so we're very kind of aware that we need to marry together different streams of information.  So the inbreeding is always advocated as a major cause of extinction on islands but it's not that simple.  You really need to measure multiple factors that could influence outcomes in populations and that's what we've always tried to do from the beginning.  We measure their prey, we measure their population genetics in terms of their inbreeding co-efficience and we try and say, right, do those things have an effect on their survival?  That's probably the best way that we can really make head or tail of what's going on with the populations in terms of their overall status and health.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Tim, you've learned an incredible amount over the last 10 years with regards to the dragons, the way they interact with their environments, their necessary habitats and the like.  How is that changing the management practices to make sure that the dragons continue as a species in this area?

TIM JESSOP 
I think the main thing that's really gone from our data is it's increased the awareness of what needs to be done to protect these animals and the park itself went through different phases of thinking about what it could do to look after these animals and it went from investing in a technical capacity in terms of training rangers and technical officers so they could get up-skilled in terms of some of these wildlife monitoring activities that we were conducting.  But the big thing that they've really done and I think it's quite incredible is that they've really increased the enforcement to a level that it's actually very, very effective.The main thing for these dragons is at the moment is to ensure that their habitats are held pretty much constant and they're doing a very good job of this through ranger patrols and floating ranger stations that actively search around these islands to ensure those habitats.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Are there things about the Komodo that we still need to learn?

TIM JESSOP 
There's lots of things that we need to know about them.  I'm deeply concerned, as many people are, that work in conservation and ecology at the moment, what you actually do under global change and climate change.  If sea level changes are basically taking off then you're reducing the habitat in the next 100 years.  If the rainfall patterns due to climate change get altered significantly then it has major impacts on the forests which basically provide the prey.The hard thing about Indonesia and, in fact, northern Australia is that the rainfall patterns are driven by El Nino cycles so they're quite unpredictable and our ability to forecast what will happen to these areas of Indonesia is very problematic.  I guess personally, I feel very scared in some ways because Indonesia is an incredibly biodiverse and incredibly endemic rich country and we don't really have a very good strategy for how we're going to basically deal with it and I think we need to think about how we can conserve these Komodos into the next 100 years.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Dr Tim Jessop, integrative ecologist with the Conservation and Wildlife Biology Research Group in the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne, thank you for being our guest on Up Close today and talking with us about Komodo dragons.

TIM JESSOP 
Thanks very much.  It's been a pleasure.

SHANE HUNTINGTON 
Relevant links, a full transcript and more info on this episode can be found on our website at upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  Up Close is a production of the University of Melbourne, Australia.  This episode was recorded on 30 May 2013.  Producers were Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel and Dyani Lewis.  Audio engineering by Gavin Nebauer.  Up Close is created by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param.  I'm Shane Huntington, until next time, good-bye.

VOICEOVER
You've been listening to Up Close.  We're also on Twitter and Facebook.  For more info visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au.  Copyright 2013, the University of Melbourne.END OF TRANSCRIPT


show transcript | print transcript | download pdf