National Geographic Today
To catch a Komodo dragon in the dry deciduous monsoon forests of Indonesia's Flores Island, biologist Claudio Ciofi and his colleagues set a "10-foot mousetrap" with a freshly killed goat as bait. Then they wait.
The Komodo dragon, Varanus komodoensis, is the world's largest lizard, sometimes growing up to 10 feet long (3 meters) and exceeding 150 pounds (70 kilograms). Powerful as this creature seems, it has met its match in man's depredation. Ciofi's research stands to boost the species' population in the wild and in the world's zoos.
"These are charismatic beasts and not that much is known about them," says Ciofi, a research fellow at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. "Their habitat is shrinking fast, particularly on Flores, where the human population is growing rapidly and where there are few protected areas (for the dragons)."
The Komodo dragon qualifies as "vulnerable" to extinction, according to the United Nations' International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
The fearsome lizards, considered mythic by westerners until expeditions in the early 20th century, now live only on five small islands, 300 miles (500 kilometers) east of Bali: Flores, Gili Dasami, Gili Motang, Komodo, and Rinca.
The lizards also inhabited the island of Padar until about 1980, when they mysteriously disappeared. Researchers believe that there are either very few dragons here, or they have become extinct.
Ciofi estimates the remaining population hovers somewhere around 3,000.
In 1980, Gili Dasami, Gili Motang, Komodo, Rinca, and Padar all became part of the Komodo National Park. Later two reservesWae Wuul Reserve on the west coast and Wolo Tado Reserve on the north coastwere added on Flores. However, there is still much of the dragons' range on Flores that is not protected.
During his visits to the islands over the last 10 years, Ciofi has had a hand in tagging and examining about 250 Komodo dragons.
The goat that Ciofi uses for bait is a favorite meal of the lizard, which can pick up the smell of carrion from three miles away.
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