Last week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) moved the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) from vulnerable to endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Endemic to Indonesia, the species is threatened by the impacts of climate change and, according to IUCN, sea level rise is expected to reduce its habitat by at least 30% over the next 45 years.
The Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard, is now listed as #In danger according to the last @IUCNRedList, published at # IUCNcongress. Sea level rise caused by #ClimateChange are a major threat https://t.co/K6AVvzhMHY pic.twitter.com/ImeJaiJFV2
– IUCN (@UICN) September 4, 2021
Dr Tim Jessop, a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Monitor Lizard Specialist Group, explains to Indian express on the status change of the Komodo dragon.
What are the current threats to the species?
Komodo dragons remain reasonably well protected, with almost half of their range located inside protected areas, including the famous Komodo National Park. However, the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia, which borders the Komodo National Parks, is far less protected, allowing ongoing human expansion to reduce the habitats of Komodo dragons.
Like many species endemic to tropical islands, increasing global temperatures are expected to impact either directly (e.g. reducing daily activity) or indirectly (e.g. changes in vegetation that influence Komodo dragon prey) on island Komodo dragon populations.
These potential impacts could occur long before a rise in sea level floods the low-lying coastal valleys that currently provide good habitat for this species.
Can you detail current conservation strategies and what future initiatives are needed?
Komodo dragons, unlike most species, have enjoyed informal and formal protection for over a century.
The biggest and most successful initiative was the establishment by the Indonesian government of Komodo National Park in 1980 (now a World Heritage area). This national park has undoubtedly provided an extremely important refuge for this species, protecting it from contemporary and hopefully future global changes.
The most important future conservation initiatives might be to ensure that the current network of protected areas remains well maintained.
Second, the extension of protected areas to all remaining substantial unprotected climate-resilient habitats could also benefit Komodo dragons. This second initiative would require a considerable investment in sustainable poverty reduction and community conservation initiatives in future protected areas to ensure that local communities are not negatively affected and to promote the success of this conservation action.
Fun fact: Did you know that Komodo dragons, as babies, have the most amazingly colorful skins with bright orange spots and white and yellow stripes that help camouflage them as they move around the treetops looking for food and avoid being eaten by other large Komodo dragons that live on the ground.
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