By Don Boyer, Komodo Dragon SSP Coordinator
The Komodo Dragon SSP (Species Survival Plan) was established in 2002. The current AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) captive population has grown to more than 126 dragons maintained at 63 AZA institutions. We are very proud of the overall success of the program. Through the active participation and hard work of member institutions, funding support from these institutions also has been instrumental in aiding wild Komodo dragon conservation in Indonesia. The Greensboro Science Center is an active supporter of the conservation fund.
Komodo dragons, exotic and fascinating in their own right, are nearly unparalleled in their ability to connect people with a strong conservation message. The wild population is estimated to be approximately 2500 animals. Current threats include global climate change, anthropogenic disturbance such as habitat alteration and poaching the dragon’s prey base. To help support the survival of these impressive lizards in the wild, the Komodo Dragon SSP maintains a conservation fund. That fund supports important and ongoing field research for long-term dragon conservation. During the past several years the steering committee has voted to approve funding to the Komodo Survival Program (KSP), a small non-governmental conservation organization that was established in 2007.
The main purpose of the KSP is to conduct monitoring activities to determine the population status of dragons, document any threats and recommend appropriate conservation measures to the Indonesian Government. Their work has provided important data in regard to demography, recruitment, dispersal and other vital information on the ecology of these magnificent reptiles. They have also worked very diligently to create community awareness of dragon ecology and conservation and the importance of the species in their ecosystem.
The AZA institutional funding has made possible a significant amount the KSP work and helped to provide a sound foundation for future monitoring of the dragon population within the Komodo National Park by their rangers. The KSP team is training the National Park ranger staff in the scientific monitoring methodology and teaches them an in depth understanding of dragon biology ecology. The KSP is also directing on conservation efforts for the more vulnerable dragons outside of the protected areas on the Island of Flores.
The SSP fund remains a viable resource to continue this valuable conservation work. The bulk of the contributions come from AZA Zoos. The collective donations to this fund have enabled the import/export of dragons for program purposes. Institutions have been able to satisfy the USFWS endangered species permit requirements for the enhancement through regular contributions to the fund. Most importantly the funding support to the KSP has filled significant gaps in their research funding and enabled infrastructure repair to ranger stations, the production of multilingual guide books with accurate dragon biology information and provided a science based long term population monitoring of the iconic species.