Lying 200 nautical miles east of Bali, Komodo National Park nestles between the large islands of Sumbawa and Flores, all of which are part of Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands (Nusa Tenggara on current maps).
This unique biosphere was born in the great volcanic uplift that formed Sumatra, Java, Bali and the islands lying eastward to Papua New Guinea. In 1928 the Dutch colonial government of the then Dutch East Indies formalized the nature reserve status originally conferred on Komodo in 1915 by the Raja of Biwa in neighbouring Sumbawa. Indonesia decreed the area a national park in 1980, and in 1992 Komodo was declared a World Heritage Site. Despite these official designations and its obvious interest to the scientific community, Komodo is daily suffering irreparable damage by the hand of man. Almost before the world can properly appreciate the natural beauty of Komodo – home of the Komodo Dragon – its wonders are in danger of disappearing forever. It is disturbing that so little has changed since the declaration of Douglas Burden, leader of the 1926 American expedition to Komodo:
“a place where every prospect pleases, and only man is vile”
Komodo National Park is located between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores in the Lesser Sunda Islands, at a distance of 200 nautical miles to the east of Bali. It has a total land area of 75,000 hectares and encompasses a number of islands, the largest of which are Komodo (34,000 hectares), Rinca (20,000 hectares), Padar, Nusa Kode, Motang, numerous smaller islands, and the Wae Wuul sanctuary on Flores. A total of 112,500 hectares of the surrounding waters are also under the jurisdiction of the park rangers.
In 1938 Padar and the south and west of Rinca were declared a Wildlife Sanctuary, but it was only in 1965 that the island of Komodo was formally included in the sanctuary. Komodo National Park was established by government decree in 1980 followed by the designation of Komodo National Park as a World Heritage Site in 1991.
Komodo National Park has the lowest annual rainfall in all of Indonesia, with an abbreviated rainy season in the month of January. For most of the year Komodo is dry and hot, parched by arid winds from the Australian desert that blow from April through October. Maximum temperatures reach 43 C, with minimums of 17 C in August.
Most of the Park is dry, rugged and hilly, a combination of ancient volcanic eruptions and more recent tectonic uplift of sedimentary seabeds. The irregular coastline is indented with rocky headlands and sandy bays, many framed by soaring volcanic cliffs.
Komodo island is 35km long and 15km wide, and is mountainous on a north to south axis, with an average altitude of 500-600m. The highest peak is Satalibo (735m) in the north. Most of the island is lontar palm savannah with remnates of rainforest and bamboo forest at higher elevations. On Rinca the land rises gradually from the north coast to a plateau that ends at Mount Dora (667m) in the south. The rugged south coast is very sheer as a result of volcanic activity in the distant past, as evidenced by the crater bay in which Nusa Kode nestles.
The Park encompasses most of the recognized habitat of the largest known lizard, the world famous Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis). The Park is also home to Sunda deer (Cervus timorensis), wild buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), wild boar ((Sus scrofa), the macaque monkey (Macaca fascicularis), and wild horse (Equus qaballus). All the large mammals have been introduced by man, but indigenous frogs, snakes and lizards abound on the island. The sole endemic species found on Komodo is the aptly named Komodo rat. Over 150 species of birds have been identified in Komodo National Park, many of which are migratory and more representative of Australasian than Asiatic species. Distinctive species include sulphur-crested cockatoos, imperial pigeons, white-breasted sea eagles and maleos. The seas surrounding the park teem with over 1000 species of fish and marine mammals
Komodo is unique in the world in having two distinct marine habitats – tropical and temperate – a few nautical miles distant from each other. There is a constant flow of the warm tropical waters of the Flores Sea to the north which mix with the cold upwellings brought from the south by the Indian Ocean. The upwellings are caused by deep ocean currents originating in Antarctica which collide with the volcanic shelf of Komodo and surface.
The upwellings, combined with the oxygenation occasioned by the fierce currents surrounding Komodo, provide an endless supply of plankton and nutrients to the surrounding seas. This in turn, supports an amazing and colourful profusion of temperate marine life – invertebrate, mammal and fish. A few mile to the north lies an even greater multitude of tropical fish life that are normally found in equatorial waters. All in all, there are over 1000 species of fish and marine mammals found in the waters surrounding Komodo.
Komodo is unique in the world in having two distinct marine habitats – tropical and temperate – a few nautical miles distant from each other. There is a constant flow of the warm tropical waters of the Flores Sea to the north which mix with the cold upwellings brought from the south by the Indian Ocean. The upwellings are caused by deep ocean currents originating in Antarctica which collide with the volcanic shelf of Komodo and surface. The upwellings, combined with the oxygenation occasioned by the fierce currents surrounding Komodo, provide an endless supply of plankton and nutrients to the surrounding seas. This in turn, supports an amazing and colourful profusion of temperate marine life – invertebrate, mammal and fish. A few mile to the north lies an even greater multitude of tropical fish life that are normally found in equatorial waters. All in all, there are over 1000 species of fish and marine mammals found in the
Even WITHOUT a Dragon, Komodo and its surrounding islets would for me still remain a powerful symbol of that vanishing Garden of Eden deep within our collective memory . With its strange orchids, flying lizards, forests of giant fan palms and scarcity of man, it seems less like another Place than another Time. So remote is this tiny island that it wasn’t until l911 that Varanus Komodoensis, its 10-foot long, running swimming, tree-climbing lizard, was described by science and revealed to the world as fact rather than myth.
Located at the edge-seam of the world, in no one continent and no one sea, the dragon islands of Komodo National Park are also surrounded by a furious moat For the Lesser Sunda archipelago, that thin chain of islands stretching east from Bali towards New Guinea, is also the grid which divides the warm shallows of the South China seas, from the cool deeps of the Indian ocean. The ebb and flow between these opposing bodies of water produces not only the protective navigational hazard of tidal races and whirlpools, but also an astounding mixture of marine creatures of both warm and cold water, some species having no business to be anywhere near here at all, others found no where else, and many more constantly revealing themselves to be new to science. No less than fifteen different varieties of whales and dolphins have recently been observed here, from pods of shark-eating tropical Orcas, to the two-foot long, exuberantly acrobatic spinner dolphins.
Whereas the Dragon was only discovered in the first decade of this century, it wasn’t until the l960’s that it was properly surveyed and studied. In the 1970’s it began receiving is first trickle of tourists, and only the l980’s did its waters first begin being plumbed by SCUBA divers – and now, at the turn of the Millennium, just when we have started to see how mysteriously rich this region is, we find it under threat. The burgeoning population of Indonesia, the hunger for fish and meat, has brought dynamite and cyanide fisher bandits to Komodo’s reefs, and marauding armed poachers seeking the wild deer and pig of the islands, which are the essential life support of the great lizard. Our last dragon, and its moat of marine mysteries, should be passed on, don’t you think, to continue to remind future generations of our earliest beginnings and of that dwindling Garden of Eden within us all?