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Zoo Miami annually supports the work done by the Komodo Survival Program which is an Indonesian-based non-profit established in 2007. They strive to provide scientific information on the Komodo dragon in its native habitat. Their efforts fall into these key areas: population monitoring, training and capacity building, stakeholder engagement, environmental education, social research, and community based initiatives.
Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) population monitoring since 2002 has been with an international team of biologists to determine the population status and abundance of komodo dragons living inside Komodo National Park. This has been done by capturing and microchipping individuals. Since 2012, in collaboration with Komodo National Park and the Wae Wuul Nature Reserve, the Komodo Survival Program began using camera traps to monitor Komodo dragon populations. In 2020, a research paper titled “Komodo dragons are not ecological analogs of apex mammalian predators” was published in the Journal of Ecology between a team of research ecologists from academic institutions and staff from the Komodo Survival Program.
Training and capacity building has included providing staff with lectures on wildlife monitoring theory, the use of dedicated software for data collection, and field sessions for monitoring Komodo dragons and their main prey species. As of 2015, staff were trained on ecological methods for assessing population abundance and density based on camera trapping and faecal counts in sample plots. In addition to hosting lectures, the Komodo Survival Program also has rangers and technicians participate in field sessions on Komodo dragon and ungulate monitoring to help sharpen their skills. All these training and capacity building efforts culminated to a technical field guide which was produced in 2016 on wildlife monitoring techniques.
Holding stakeholder engagement meetings between Komodo National Park, National Board of Natural Resource Conservacy, and local authorities allows for engaging on conversations about the conservation of Komodo dragons. The Komodo Survival Program has worked together with Pengendali Ekosistem Hutan (PEH), foresters, chiefs of local districts and culture, and other authorities to create a cooperation agreement framework which advocates for the conservation of Komodo dragons.
Starting in 2016, the Komodo Survival Program began providing seminars for teachers and primary school classes on terrestrial biodiversity to gage their perception and attitude toward biodiversity conservation. Environmental education and awareness sessions have also been held in multiple villages to inform the public on conservation efforts and the importance of biodiversity. Some of these assessments included an assessment of children’s perception of Komodo dragons and their natural habitat. These efforts have involved trying to measure perceptions on the species, the public’s ability to recognize it, whether people have encountered Komodo dragons and/or other wildlife close to their homes, the distance they would have liked to keep with respect to wild animals, and their willingness to allow Komodo dragons and other wildlife to live close to them.
In 2016, a social research initiative was implemented in northern Flores Island, Indonesia where locals’ perceptions about wildlife was recorded through in-depth interviews and human-Komodo dragon conflict events were assessed for the first time to plan for possible mitigation measures. Via interviews and questionnaires, the Komodo Survival Program has been able to define peoples’ perceptions towards wildlife and assess the frequency and type of human-Komodo dragon conflicts. The methods implemented by the organization have been based on the Comfortable Interpersonal Distance Scale, Attitudes toward Animals Scale, Behavioral Intention Scale and affections measurement. This is all with the goal of tackling conservation challenges through multiple avenues.
Community based initiatives to help raise awareness on the conservation needs of Komodo dragons have been a big part of the Komodo Survival Plan’s efforts to engage the public. Selected members from the Komodo village on the Island of Komodo who have shown specific wood carving skills have been encouraged by the Komodo National Park authority to produce and sell handicrafts to raise community awareness for the conservation of the Komodo Dragon. Other wildlife such as deer and buffaloes are also carved and the handicrafts are then sold to tourists at the harbor on Komodo Island. This wood carving activity is based on sustainable or strictly monitored wood harvesting and is now one lucrative activity for people living within the boundaries of Komodo National Park. Lastly a workshop has been held where people from northern Flores had repeated meetings with people from the village of Komodo to learn about logistics of daily coexistence with Komodo dragons from nearby forests and ecotourism practices. These meetings focused mainly on the potential of the presence of Komodo dragons for ecotourism development and included sessions on the making of wooden Komodo dragon characters. Through these initiatives, the local community is able to advocate for the conservation of Komodo dragons through their appeal in the tourism industry.
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