'Wotong' bird nests help Komodos survive: Study

'Wotong' bird nests help Komodos survive: Study

The recent hatching of 16 Komodo dragons from the remains of a scrubfowl nest on Ontoloe Islet, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), has highlighted the role the chicken-like bird species plays in the survival of the dragons.

Komodo Survival Program (KSP) researcher Achmad Ariefiandy told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that the orange-footed scrubfowl, locally known as the wotong or gosong bird, was a key species for the breeding of the large lizards on Flores and in Komodo National Park.

"The scrubfowl nest is very large so the Komodo dragons can lay their eggs in it. Based on a study, around 60 per cent of dragons lay their eggs in scrubfowl nests, 20 per cent on ground level and 20 per cent in hilly areas," Ariefiandy said on Tuesday.

The importance of scrubfowl nests to Komodo dragons is known, but has never been studied extensively. In this recent development, a joint team from the Kupang Natural Resources Conservation Center (BKSDA) and the KSP observed Komodo dragons hatching in such a nest for the first time.

The observation took place on Ontoloe, an islet in the Riung Island resort park, which spans more than 600 hectares, in Riung district, Ngada regency, NTT.

The KSP has been observing the behaviour of Komodo dragons on Ontoloe since 2013.

In June and July 2014, the team monitored how the dragons sought out nests to lay eggs. The team set up cameras to record female dragons laying their eggs.

In August and September 2014, the team filmed the female dragons placing their eggs in the scrubfowl nests.

Komodo dragons usually use a large nest to lay their eggs, making a number of holes as camouflage to prevent other dragons from eating the eggs.

In October and November 2014, the study showed that the female dragons did not protect their eggs but instead sought food in the forests of Ontoloe.

On March 5, 2015, at 10 a.m. local time, 16 Komodo hatchlings were observed emerging from the nest, making holes in the egg compartments in the ground. The team was able to place tags on the babies and measured 15 of them. The hatchlings measured 46.5 centimeters long and weighed 105.1 grams on average.

A chip or tag was attached to each of the hatchlings so they could be more easily monitored. Their blood samples were also taken for gender and genetic information.

Komodo dragons usually spend their first year without the presence of their mothers, surviving in trees to avoid predators until they are big enough to defend themselves and survive on the ground.

"This study shows that the Komodo dragons beyond Komodo National Park can survive despite limited food," said Ariefiandy.

Since 2002, the KSP has conducted research on the behaviour of the lizards at Komodo National Park and other places on Flores, including Wae Wuul Conservation Park, Golo Mori, Tanjung Karita Mese in West Manggarai, Pota Protected Forest in East Manggarai and Ontoloe.

BKSDA technical division head Maman Suharman said his agency had used cameras to record at least 30 Komodo dragons living in Wae Wuul, 11 on Ontoloe and six in Pota forest.

Last week, lawmakers from House of Representatives Commission IV overseeing agriculture visited Komodo National Park and received information on the cutting down of mangrove trees in the park's perimeter, which threatened the park.

The park was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011.

The other six natural wonders that year were the Amazon in South America, Halong Bay in Vietnam, Iguazu Falls on the border of the Brazilian state of Parana and the Argentine province of Misiones, Jeju Island in South Korea, Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Philippines and Table Mountain in South Africa.

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