/ 25 September 2021

Earth’s last ‘dragons’ under threat from climate change

In danger: The giant monitor lizard, called the Komodo dragon, is found in the wild only in the Komodo National Park’s islands in Indonesia. (Prisma Bildagentur/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Among the species that are endangered and under threat of extinction from the climate crisis is the famous Komodo dragon.

It was previously regarded as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which changed its status to “endangered” when it concluded its international congress last week.

The IUCN said the Komodo dragon is under increasing threat because of climate change. 

The Komodo dragon is found in Indonesia and only at the World Heritage-listed Komodo National Park and on Flores island. The monitor lizard can grow up to two metres and weigh 130kg and is the largest on Earth. 

Only two Komodo dragons are on the African continent, at the Pretoria Zoo in Gauteng. It is part of the monitor lizard family such as the rock monitor lizard found in South Africa. 

The updated red list has 138 374 listed species, of which 38 543 are threatened with extinction. 

The IUCN said: “Rising global temperature and subsequent sea levels are expected to reduce the Komodo dragon’s suitable habitat by at least 30% in the next 45 years.”

The subpopulation at Komodo National Park is stable and well protected but those outside protected areas on Flores are threatened by significant habitat loss caused by human activities, the IUCN added.

It is illegal to trade Komodo dragons under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) global treaty. Poaching remains a threat to the lizard’s population.

Conservationists have raised concern over the construction of a “Jurassic Park” type of tourist attraction on Rinca Island, which is part of the Komodo National Park, after a photograph, which went viral last year, showed a dragon crawling towards a construction vehicle. 

“The severity and extent of human actions impacting Komodo dragon populations, especially on Flores Island, are only just being realised,” says the co-author of the largest study to date, Deni Purwandana, who is also a coordinator of the Komodo Survival Programme.

“Having an insight into future impacts of climate change provides new possibilities to work with conservation agencies and local communities to find on-ground solutions that will limit climate and other threats to Komodo dragons and their habitats.”

Lead author Dr Alice Jones said current conservation strategies were not enough to avoid species decline in the face of climate change.

“Interventions such as establishing new reserves in areas that are predicted to sustain high-quality habitats in the future, despite global warming, could work to lessen the effects of climate change on Komodo dragons,” she said. 

Tunisia Phillips is an Adamela Trust climate and economic justice reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa