Thursday, September 25, 2008

WWF collaborates with Pemda Nunukan to preserve the elephants of East Kalimantan

It has been known for a long time that elephants occur in the eastern and southern part of Sabah, on the island of Borneo. However, until recently few people knew that there is also a elephant population living in the very north of East Kalimantan. These elephants are confined to the northern part of the district of Nunukan, and historical records indicate that this area is part of their original natural habitat. The indigenous people of the area have always been familiar with these animals that they respectfully refer to as nenek (grandparents).

The elephants of Borneo were always thought to have been introduced to Sabah some 200 years ago. However, recent DNA studies have proven that the elephants of Borneo are in fact an indigenous sub-species, called Elephas maximus borneensis, which split from the other sub-species some 300,000 years ago.

Picture of an elephant from Sebuku area was documented from a survey last year

The elephant herds of Nunukan district moves through a wide area of the upper Sebuku sub-district, from the upper Agison drainage area in the west to the foot slopes of the Mayo hills in the east. They frequently cross the border to move through adjacent areas in Sabah.
The upper Sebuku area is still covered by natural forests, but most forests have been logged or are being logged.

Solitary male elephants occasionally wander much further to the south, all the way to the Tikung River. This is nowadays happening much more often than before, and the number of elephants coming to the south is also larger. It is particularly in this southern area where many new developments are taking place. Large areas have been allocated for oil palm plantations, and many villages have their agricultural fields in this area.
Many conflicts between elephants and human have occurred in the last few years, as elephants enter oil palm plantations, people’s fields and even villages. This has resulted in destruction of crops and infrastructure, which has angered the local people.
WWF in collaboration with the Government of Nunukan, Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) of East Kalimantan have documented the recent visits of disturbing elephants into the area, and it has received much media attention during the last two years.

Joint Efforts with the BKSDA and local government

BKSDA Kaltim and WWF want to avoid more conflicts with the elephants, and have therefore facilitated Pemda Nunukan with the establishment of the Elephant Conflict Forum, during a five days workshop in the village of Sekikilan last September. Surveys of the elephant area and analysis of the field data were carried out by WWF and BKSDA Kaltim to obtain more ecological information of the elephants here, which includes a distribution map of the elephant herds and the solitary males.

WWF will now further collaborate with Pemda Nunukan and BKSDA to ensure that the development of the area can coincide with the conservation of the elephants of Sebuku.

Pemda Nunukan is currently in the process of developing a new spatial land use plan (rencana tata ruang kabupaten) and WWF will advise about the elephant habitats and corridors that need to be incorporated in the spatial planning to avoid elephant-human conflicts. These advices will be supported by more ecological data, obtained through additional research and surveys.
The Elephant Conflict Forum of Sebuku will be strengthened and further organized. WWF will donate through Pemda Nunukan the equipment that is needed to anticipate elephant intrusions in fields and plantations, such as communication radios, flashlights and noise cannons. Pemda Nunukan will allocate additional funds to make the Forum fully operational.

Capacity building of the local stakeholders will be further developed by Pemda Nunukan and BKSDA with assistance from WWF. This includes training and learning visits to the elephant project in neighboring Sabah, which will also strengthen trans-boundary collaboration.

The strong commitment of Pemda Nunukan is very encouraging and can through the partnership with WWF, BKSDA and local stakeholders result in the preservation of the unique elephant population of Nunukan, the only elephants in Indonesian Borneo.

Guidelines for Better Management Practices on Avoidance, Mitigation and Management of Human-Orangutan Conflict in and around Oil Palm Plantations

In 2006, Indonesia and Malaysia accounted for 83% and 89% of global exports of palm oil respectively, with export trends expected to double by the year 2020. This has led to the expansion of oil palm. While oil palm production is a major source of income for Indonesia, and some oil palm plantations are well managed, others have imposed social and environmental costs. It is recognized that there are environmental pressures on oil palm expansion to areas having high conservation values, including orangutan habitat, causing a significant decline in orangutan populations, particularly as palm oil can only be cultivated in tropical countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

It has been demonstrated that oil palm plantations can only support 0 to 20% of the mammals, reptiles and birds that the land supported prior to conversion. Where natural ecosystems have been converted to other land uses, conflicts arise between humans and wildlife, resulting in wildlife being killed, and poached for trade. This includes orangutans, the only great ape found in Asia. Today, orangutans are threatened by extinction in the wild.

Orangutans and many other species are being captured, and often end up injured, starving, or dead. Unplanned forest conversion is exacerbating this situation, completely disregarding the importance of biodiversity as genetic resource for human welfare.

A key issue that needs to be addressed is preventing the increase of conflicts between orangutans and humans. To this end, several conservation organizations and academic institutions have formed a communication forum to develop orangutan rescue guidelines for use by oil palm companies. These technical guidelines were compiled as guiding principles for Better Management Practices (BMP) of human-orangutan conflict management, including the protection of HCVF (High Conservation Value Forests) areas within oil palm plantations. This document aims to help industrial stakeholders identify the right steps to adopt BMP, which is of clear benefit for both conservation and industrial activities.

The authors would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their contribution to the development of this guide: Marc Ancrenaz, Fitrian Ardiansyah, Monica Borner, Doris Calegari, Stuart Chapman, Marc Dunais, Garreth Goldthorpe, Lone Droscher Nielsen, Amalia Prameswari, Aldrianto Priadjati, Bella Roscher, Anne Russon, Ian Singleton, Jatna Supriatna; Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, Conservation International-Indonesia Program, Orangutan Conservancy, Fauna & Flora International Indonesia Program, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, Wildlife Conservation Society-Indonesia Program, World Wide Fund for Nature-Indonesia, WWF-Malaysia, WWF-Switzerland; Universitas Indonesia, Universitas Nasional, The Hacin Family Foundation.

Nokia tops latest Greener Electronics Guide

Company scores plummeted in the previous edition of Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics, when new criteria on climate change were introduced. However, leading brands like Nokia and Samsung are now making significant progress in greening their electronics products, with improved environmental policies responding not only to these new energy criteria, but also to the more stringent chemical and e-waste criteria.

Boys burning electronic cables and other electrical components in  order to melt off the plastic and reclaim the copper wiring. This  burning in small fires releases toxic chemicals into the environment.

Boys burning electronic cables and other electrical components in order to melt off the plastic and reclaim the copper wiring. This burning in small fires releases toxic chemicals into the environment.

The Greener Electronics Guide is our way of getting the electronics industry to take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products. We want them to face up to the problem of e-waste and take on the challenge of tackling climate change.

First launched in August 2006 and now in its 9th edition, the Guide ranks the leaders of the mobile phone, computer, TV and games console markets according to their policies and practices on toxic chemicals, recycling and energy.

The Guide has been a key driving force in getting many companies to make significant improvements to their environmental policies, and it continues to provoke significant change in the industry. Intel recently announced that its new Xeon 5400 processors use transistors made from hafnium, thus avoiding the use of toxic Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs). Last week, we also saw the announcement by Apple that its new line of iPods would be free of BFRs, PVC and mercury.

Who's in the lead, and who's in need?

Scoring seven points out of ten, Nokia has regained the lead, due largely to its improved take-back practice in India. Samsung, a top scorer on the energy-efficiency of its products, takes second place with 5.9 points. Fujitsu Siemens Computers jumps to third place with 5.5 points, having finally set late 2010 as its deadline for eliminating toxic PVC plastic and all BFRs from across its product range. Although Sony Ericsson and Sony - who enjoyed the top two positions in the previous edition - rank fourth and fifth respectively this time around, they remain in the top half of the ranking with scores of 5.3 each.

Languishing at the bottom of the ranking is Sharp with 3.1, Microsoft with 2.2 points and Nintendo, with only 0.8.

Greener Electronics: Toxic-free

We want manufacturers to eliminate harmful chemicals in their product design. While no company has, so far, released a computer completely free of BFRs and PVC, several have recently launched products with restricted amounts of toxic BFRs and PVC. Sony Ericsson stands out, having banned hazardous chemicals such as antimony, beryllium and phthalates since the beginning of the year. All of its new models are PVC-free. Following the lead set by companies like Sony Ericsson, and Nokia, Apple has also announced that its new line of iPods will be free of BFRs, PVC and mercury.

This is a first step towards Apple putting its money where its mouth is: Apple committed to a complete phase-out of PVC and BFRs from all of its products by the end of 2008. With the new iPods being the cheapest models yet, this is clear proof that high-performing electronics products can be affordable, popular and effective without using toxic chemicals. A downside to Apple's new iPod is its built-in obsolescence; because of the high costs to replace the battery, new product purchase is encouraged.

Apple has positioned itself among the leaders on PVC and BFR phase-out, but the iPod alone is not enough to increase its overall score. A complete phase out of all toxic chemicals across its entire product range would improve Apple's ranking, and the company needs to improve its record on recycling and climate policy. We're urging Apple to introduce a free, global recycling scheme like rivals such as Dell.

Greener Electronics: Energy-efficient

Since the 8th edition of the Guide criteria to assess the companies' performance in tackling climate change have been introduced. The global Information and Communication Technology industry is estimated to be responsible for approximately 2 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the rapid proliferation of energy-hungry electronic gadgets is part of this. It's vital that the electronics industry plays a leading role in producing more energy-efficient products. Aside from assessing the efficiency of their products, we also score companies according to how much renewable energy they use and the level of their commitment to significantly reducing emissions.

Top scorers on energy-efficiency of individual products are Apple, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung, with Toshiba providing a further example of a company that is improving its climate policy.

Greener Electronics: Responsibly recycled

We want to see an end to the stories of unprotected child labourers scavenging mountains of cast-off gadgets created by society's gizmo-loving ways. The latest place where we have discovered high-tech toxic trash causing horrendous pollution is in Ghana. Our recent investigation into e-waste dumping in Ghana revealed major companies' products being torn apart in almost mediaeval conditions, exposing people to alarming levels of toxic contamination.

Philips stands out as the company with the worst position on e-waste and recycling. It ranks 12th with 4.3 points, retaining its penalty point for negative lobbying on Individual Producer Responsibility in the EU. Put simply, this means that companies like Philips believe that the costs for responsible recycling of their obsolete and end-of-life products should be met by governments and consumers (and that means you!).

Philips has a bad history of holding this negative stance on recycling. Together with Sharp and Sanyo, Philips was a member of the Electronic Manufacturers' Coalition for Responsible Recycling, a coalition of TV producers in the US that lobbied against producer responsibility for financing e-waste recycling and instead putting this responsibility - and expense - on governments and the buyers of its products (that means you!). Many companies left this coalition after being either penalised or threatened with a penalty in earlier editions of our Greener Electronics Guide, and the coalition was finally dissolved in August.

Switching to Green Electronics

With more companies now scoring higher than 5 out of 10 - the halfway mark in the ranking - a company that rises to the challenge of phasing out toxic chemicals, increasing the recycling rate of e-waste, using recycled materials in new products and reducing its impact on climate change could soon find itself winning the race to produce the world's first truly green electronics.

Victory! European Parliament votes to reduce emissions from gas guzzlers

International — In a long-awaited display of responsibility, the European Parliament’s Environment committee has voted through a strong package to reduce emissions from cars. As the committee went into session, it seemed certain that a compromise package riddled with loopholes would be the one to pass. However, the MEPs voted to stick with meaningful legislation, turning their backs on nine months of lobbying by the car industry.

Activists from Greenpeace Spain climbed the Osborne Bull, an  internationally known symbol of Spanish roads, to "protect" him from  increasing CO2 emissions from cars.

Activists from Greenpeace Spain climbed the Osborne Bull, an internationally known symbol of Spanish roads, to "protect" him from increasing CO2 emissions from cars.

Under the new deal, average fleet emissions from new cars, which are currently around 158 grams

  • Must be reduced to 130 grams/km by 2012
  • Must fall further to 95 grams by 2020
  • For every gram over the average a manufacturer will face fines of 95 euro per car

The proposal still has to pass the full EU Parliament and the Council of Ministers. But this is now increasingly likely to happen, and we’ll be defending this package every inch of the way.
The ruling comes as a huge blow to the car industry lobby, which has shamelessly defended its right to drive climate change by putting profits ahead of the climate. The lobby, led by Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW will now have to embrace a low carbon future.

Victory! Turkish nuclear plans powered down

Turkey — Just two days after the arrest of 37 activists from Greenpeace and Global Action Group protesting against nuclear energy in Turkey, there has been a victory. For months, the Energy Ministry of Turkey has been intent on selecting a supplier for its first nuclear energy plant. The plant would have been the first of a number the Turkish government says it wants to build. Instead, plans have been stopped dead in their tracks. It turns out energy companies just aren’t that interested in the risk of a new nuclear energy plant.

Nuclear power presents unacceptable risks to life on this planet: its  small contribution to power is far outweighed by its inherent dangers.

Nuclear power presents unacceptable risks to life on this planet: its small contribution to power is far outweighed by its inherent dangers.

And the envelope please…

Yesterday, the government received envelopes from 6 companies supposedly interested in building the new plant. Only one envelope actually held a bid for a new nuclear plant – the other five contained a “thanks but no thanks” letter. Russian company Atomstroyexport was the only one willing to roll the dice on nuclear energy in Turkey. But, Turkish rules say that without competition for the bid the government is unable to move ahead and issue the tender for a new nuclear plant.

Turkey might have been considering nuclear energy as a quick and cheap fix to its energy needs but nuclear energy is anything but quick or cheap. In addition to being extremely dangerous and dirty, nuclear energy is an economic disaster. Because of increasing costs and construction time, companies just don’t want to invest.

The time has come for an Energy [R]evolution. Let’s not fall back on power from the past. We’ve come up with a plan to move from a world powered by nuclear and fossil fuels to one running on renewable energy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Will the real dinosaurs stand up?

Most of the newly discovered dinosaurs are just that - new to science, an assessment concludes.

With many past fossil finds named on the basis of partial remains, there has been concern that a lot of double counting has been taking place.

Recent studies had even suggested this error rate might be as high as 50% - with some species being catalogued with several aliases.

This plant-eating Jurassic dinosaur was named Yinlong downsi by Xu Xing and colleagues in 2006. Xu Xing is the most prolific namer of new dinosaurs: this is his 25th new species. This type specimen is essentially complete, typical of the good practice of most workers today.

But the journal Biology Letters reports that modern practice is now very good.

"My research suggests we're getting better at naming things; we're being more critical; we're using better material," said Professor Michael Benton from Bristol University, UK.

The scientist looked at the original descriptions of all 1,047 species of dinosaurs ever named, from 1824 to the present day.

He assessed the quality of the specimens on which the names were founded - the type specimens. Professor Benton said some 500 were genuinely distinct, and the confidence surrounding the latest discoveries - about one new species a fortnight - was now very high.

"The bane of the dinosaurologist's life is species that have been named on the basis of incomplete specimens," Professor Benton explained.

"In Victorian times, palaeontologists were keen to name new species, and in the excitement of the great 'bone wars' for example, from 1870 to 1890, they rushed into print with new names for every odd leg bone, tooth, or skull cap that came their way.

"Later work, on more complete specimens, reduced more than 1,000 named dinosaurs to 500 or so."

Professor Benton said science had now put in place far more rigorous naming protocols, dramatically reducing the "alias problem".

Since 1960, the great majority of new species are founded on more or less complete specimens, sometimes even whole skeletons.

Professor Benton has a critical interest in the topic because he studies the evolution of dinosaurs. He tries to understand how this famous animal group changed and diversified over almost 200 million years.

"There's no point somebody such as myself doing big statistical analyses of numbers of dinosaur species through time - or indeed any other fossil group - if you can't be confident that they really are genuinely different," he told BBC News.

"This is important also for studies of modern biodiversity. People have also been looking at our current knowledge of mammals and insects and other animal groups and asking the simple question: are the species totals and lists we use for important conclusions - including to give political advice about endangered species - are they correct?

"There's been a big debate about vast extinctions among amphibians. We have to know what the species are first, before we can talk about that."

EU to overhaul fisheries policy

The European Commission has announced a full review of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, saying the current regime fails to protect fish stocks.

The commission says that fishermen who obey the fishing rules are being penalised by the irresponsible behaviour of others who flout them.

That "vicious circle" has undermined the ecological balance of the oceans, the commission says.

The EU wants to cut the size of fleets and the time fishermen spend at sea.

Trawlers in Valletta harbour, Malta
Sustainable fishing is more important than profit, the commission says

Overfishing threat

The commission says there are still too many vessels chasing too few fish, and that ecological sustainability must take precedence over economic or social factors.

In other words, just because a community has traditionally depended on fishing does not mean it can continue to do so.

Tuna caught by Spanish fishermen (file pic)

The Common Fisheries Policy was established in 1983 and last reformed in 2002.

It sets quotas for catches and is aimed at curbing harmful practices such as "discards" - when trawlers throw organisms back into the sea.

Graph of fish decline.

Overfishing is the main threat to the future of fish stocks, and the current policy rewards narrow-minded and short-term decision-making, the commission says.

In 2003, 29% of open sea fisheries were assessed as being in a state of collapse, defined as a decline to less than 10% of their original yield.

Fishermen are using ever more powerful boats, cleverer technology and bigger nets; but even so the global catch of fish is falling because there are fewer of them. Between 1994 and 2003 it declined by 13%.

Many species in EU waters are at risk of extinction, according to scientists.

The EU is the world's second largest fishing power after China.

While more than two million tons of fish products were exported in 2006, more than six million tons had to be imported to meet EU needs.

Coal shipment stopped in Turkey

Iskenderun, Turkey — Four climbers from our ship the Rainbow Warrior were arrested yesterday, in Turkey, after they occupied a giant coal loading platform to prevent a delivery of coal to the giant Sugozo coal-fired power station, one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. After 11 hours blocking coal coming off the “Global Winner” (“Global Warmer” more like), a South African cargo ship, they were forced down by police using high-pressure water hoses. The four climbers and their support team have now been released and are facing the prospect of heavy fines for their actions.

Activists board one of the world's largest coal platforms at Botas Oil  Terminal, stopping barges from importing coal to the Sugozu (Isken)  coal fired power plant.

Activists board one of the world's largest coal platforms at Botas Oil Terminal, stopping barges from importing coal to the Sugozu (Isken) coal fired power plant.

The Sugozu coal power plant emits some 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year (three times as much as Iceland), which makes it the fourth largest single emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, in terms of power plants.

The action was designed to send a message to the Turkish state authority EMRA (Energy Market Regulatory Authority) - which is responsible for licensing coal power plants. Launching Greenpeace Turkey’s “Quit Coal” campaign, the action is just the beginning of our work to stop the construction of 40 new coal fired power plants currently planned in Turkey. Insanely, almost all of them will rely on imported coal in a country where wind and solar alone could easily exceed current electricity demand.
Justify Full
Turkey is already an international disgrace when it comes to increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and has failed to even ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Hilal Atici, our Greenpeace Mediterranean Coal Campaigner says “The Isken action is just the beginning – we will not stop until our government wakes up and quits coal.”

The Greenpeace Mediterranean Executive Director has requested a meeting with EMRA this week to press our case. He will be outside their head offices in Ankara ensuring that they listen to our very simple demand “No new coal in Turkey - Embrace an energy revolution.” The ship is now en-route to Istanbul.

Turkey is the second country on Greenpeace’s European “Quit Coal” ship tour – we are taking the message directly to governments in the run-up to crucial UN climate negotiations in Poznan, Poland this December. Greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for post 2012 need to be set and the final agreement on these will be made in Copenhagen in 2009. The period leading up to this is really "make of break" for the climate. The message is pretty clear – in order to have any meaningful deal to save the climate, the world has to quit coal - the worst polluter of all fossil fuels.

Rainbow Warrior raises a reaction for the climate in Israel

Ashkelon, Israel — The Israeli police, supported by the navy, arrested the captain of the Rainbow Warrior - together with 14 Greenpeace activists, the photographer and the videographer - for passing on the message to “Quit Coal”. Activists had been painting the message, in English and Hebrew, on a ship importing coal to the Ashkelon power plant in Israel. Police boarded the Rainbow Warrior before we had even started the painting.

Israeli Marine forces board the SV Rainbow Warrior at the military  restricted area near the coal plant in Ashkelon, Israel. 14 Greenpeace  activists were later arrested and taken into custody after protesting  against the Rotenberg coal power plant construction.

Israeli Marine forces board the SV Rainbow Warrior at the military restricted area near the coal plant in Ashkelon, Israel. 14 Greenpeace activists were later arrested and taken into custody after protesting against the Rotenberg coal power plant construction.

Our Captain, Daniel Rizotti, was arrested by Israeli police. The officers, arriving on a military ship and carrying machine guns, came on board and demanded that he sail back to Ashdod, the port we had left that morning. So, still waiting for the release of our activists, we sailed back.

The protest marked the launch of our “Quit Coal: Save the Climate” tour through the Mediterranean and Europe. Israel is only the beginning of our journey; we’re visiting 11 countries en route to Poland, where crucial UN climate negotiations continue this December.

Why “Quit Coal”?

Because, when it comes to climate change, coal is by far the worst offender. Yet governments seem to be missing the message, approving plans for hundreds of new coal-fired plants. If they don’t wake up to the urgent need to stop this, then by 2030 carbon emissions coming from coal will have increased by some 60 percent. We’re here to sound the alarm.

Our action in Israel was a wake-up call to the government to abandon its plans for a new coal plant in Ashkelon. Despite thousands of Israelis voicing their opposition to this unnecessary and dirty plant, the government has approved plans anyway. But it’s not too late! Greenpeace is urging all Israelis - whether at home or abroad - to lodge a complaint.

Sunny Solution

Israel is very, very sunny. So it’s pretty crazy that Israel is not embracing this solar potential and instead continues to rely on imported coal (not to mention the CO2 emissions of shipping the coal to Israel from Colombia, Indonesia and Australia). Israel is getting some things right – it has built the world’s first solar thermal plant, and it’s selling that technology worldwide. Something to celebrate indeed. But more is needed for Israel to be guaranteed a brighter future.

The world must quit its addiction to coal; luckily we have the cure. Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution scenario shows how renewable energy, combined with greater energy efficiency, can cut global CO2 emissions by 50%, and deliver half the world's energy needs by 2050.

Happily, we now have our captain, activists, media team, inflatables and cameras back on board. We’ve been deported from Israel, but now we’re heading for Turkey – and the next stage of our “Quit Coal” tour.

Greenpeace activists in the dock: Experts take ‘the stand’ on climate change

Maidstone Crown Court, United Kingdom — As expert witnesses go, they don’t come any better than Professor James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists and Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. On Wednesday, he was called to give evidence before a UK Court on the threat posed by Kingsnorth coal-fired power station to the world’s climate.

Six Greenpeace activists are being charged with criminal damage after they took action last October, to highlight the threat posed by Kingsnorth.

Hansen’s evidence will be crucial in establishing their defence, since while the defendants accept the damage they caused, they say they did so to prevent much greater damage to other property and the planet.

Lawful damage

The trial is in its fifth day. The six Greenpeace activists are on trial for scaling a smokestack at Kingsnorth power station in October last year. They have been charged with causing £30,000 worth of criminal damage for painting "GORDON" down the chimney. They planned to paint “GORDON – BIN IT”, but they weren’t able to because of poor light.

The defendants accept that they caused the damage, but are arguing that is was lawful for them to damage the chimney in order to protect other property in Kent (where Kingsnorth is located), and around the world, said to be at the risk of much more serious damage from climate change caused to a large degree by coal-fired power stations.

Yesterday, Hansen was called to the stand to give evidence. Hansen has an impressive CV, having spent the last 20 years studying the Earth’s climate. As well as numerous accolades for his work, he has given evidence to the US Congress and Senate several times and warned a succession of US Vice-Presidents, including Al Gore, about the impacts of climate change.

James Hansen in conversation outside Maidstone Crown Court

Kingsnorth kills

He told the 12 jurors at Maidstone Crown Court in Kent that emissions from the Kingsnorth power station led to damage to property worldwide, as well as the extinction of species and the creation of climate change refugees. During his testimony, Hansen warned that, if the world continues with business-as-usual, our descendants will be “left with a much more desolate planet and much less biodiversity”. He said that even a two degree rise in temperature is “a recipe for global disaster” and that the last time the Earth was more than two degrees warmer than it is now, there was a 25-metre sea level rise. He pointed out that the UK bears the most responsibility for historical CO2 emissions in the atmosphere per person (followed by the US and then Germany) and that, if the UK carries on with business as usual, it could cause the extinction of nearly one million species; several hundred of these species extinctions could be associated directly with Kingsnorth power station.

It's not too late

During Live Earth, last year, he was invited to go on stage with Al Gore. He took his grandchildren along. "How many species do we need to save?", he asked them. "All of them," said his grand-daughter. "Me too," said his grandson.

"We can't save all of them," Hansen told the Court, "but we can still save most." But, although "there's just barely still time" we need an immediate moratorium on the construction of all new coal-fired power plants (without CCS) and the phasing out of existing coal plants. And somebody - whether it's the UK, US or Germany - needs "to stand up".

"Gordon Brown," he said, "should announce a moratorium on all new coal plants without carbon capture and storage." Speaking to the Jury, he also agreed with a statement made by former US Vice President and Nobel Peace Laureate, Al Gore: "I can't understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power stations".

Just before Hansen’s evidence, another defence expert witness, Dr Geoffrey Meaden (via video link from Brazil), confirmed that the examples of climate change impacts being cited by the defendants are 'true circumstances'. "It is overwhelmingly perceived," he said, "by the defendants, the scientific community and myself" that we are changing our climate. "There's an increasing urgency," he said, "for all citizens and governments to take action."

"Within five years," said Dr Meaden, "there could be no summer ice left in the Arctic...Ironically, the Kingsnorth area itself will be extremely vulnerable to flooding due to climate change. The situation is so urgent that unless we act immediately to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by the next century we may have to abandon up to 20 percent of Kent to the sea... It behoves us to act with urgency."

Taking a stand

One of our activists, Emily, also took the stand, and introduced herself and how she'd come to be involved with Greenpeace. Emily explained that whatever emissions are in the atmosphere now will have impacts for years to come. When asked why she climbed the chimney, she said, "I felt very strongly that I wanted to do that." And, when the pictures of her hanging off the top of Kingsnorth's smokestack were handed out, at least a couple of jurors gasped.

Another activist, Kevin, was next and introduced himself as a rope access worker from Wiltshire who had become concerned about climate change back in the '80s. Kevin's questions focused mostly on the safety aspects of the direct action. Much of the evidence presented by the expert witnesses was of a highly complicated technical nature and the 12 jurors really have a tough job to take it all in. But, in the end, burning fossil fuels causes climate change that is wreaking massive damage to the environment, the economy and human health. It is not too late to bring climate change under control and avoid the worst impacts.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lavender-flavoured food dished up

Culinary connoisseurs at a lavender festival have been encouraged to use the herb in their cooking.

Lavender farmer William Alexander said the herb, which comes from the mint family, could be used with everything from crème brulee to meat and fish.

Lavender lunch
Chefs prepared an entire lunch menu with lavender in each dish

A two-day festival at his farm in Kent, had lavender-flavoured cheesecake, ice cream, chocolate and cordial available for visitors to try.

"It's an incredibly versatile herb," the Sevenoaks farmer said.

Castle Farm now has 50 acres of lavender in flower, which is being cut by hand for drying.

The herb has been used for medicinal purposes since the middle ages, and has been used for soap and perfume since Victorian times.

Mr Alexander said: "It's used in aromatherapy and perfumes, and what we are celebrating is using it as an essence in cookery and foods."

Raj Kang, lavender picker
It's therapeutic, you get a good night's sleep ... it's just enjoyable
Raj Kang

His wife, Caroline, said this year was the first time the farm had produced lavender essence to be used as a cooking ingredient.

She said the farm had cooked an entire lunch menu using the ingredient to show how it could be used, which included main courses of chicken with lemon and lavender sauce, and beef cooked on a bed of lavender.

And she said another favourite recipe used "tart fruits like a gooseberry or a rhubarb with just a few drops of lavender essence".

Chef Victor Hugo, who sampled the new flavour, said: "It's delicious, quite subtle, but really delicious. I'm just waiting for the dessert."

Lavender picker Raj Kang said she was enjoying her holiday job picking the herb.

"It's therapeutic, you get a good night's sleep ... it's just enjoyable," she said.

Events during the festival on Saturday and Sunday included guided tours of the lavender fields, aromatherapy demonstrations, tastings and bee-keeping displays.

Oils 'make male breasts develop'

Using lavender and tea tree oil products can cause young boys to develop breast tissue, a study finds.

Gynaecomastia is rare, and there is often no obvious cause.

But US specialists report in the New England Journal of Medicine that three boys developed the condition after using the oils.

Products containing lavender oil were cited in all three cases

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) team say doctors who see boys should ask about their use of such products.

Oils 'mimicked hormones'

Clifford Bloch, a child hormone specialist at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Science Center's School of Medicine started to suspect the link after seeing the three boys.

The first, aged four, had been experiencing symptoms for two to three weeks.

His mother said she had recently begun applying a "healing balm" containing lavender oil to his skin.

The second boy, who was 10, had been developing enlarged breast tissue over the previous five months.

When questioned, it emerged that he was using a shampoo and hair gel containing lavender oil and tea tree oil every morning.

The third boy, aged seven, had a one-month history of gynaecomastia.

He had been using lavender-scented soaps and skin lotions. His twin used the soap, but not the lotions, and had not developed the condition.

Each of the boys stopped using the relevant products, and several months later the tissue growth was found to have subsided.

The team at the NIEHS carried out tests on human cells and found pure lavender and tea tree oils could mimic the actions of female hormones and inhibit the effects of male hormones, and therefore disrupt the endocrine system in the body.

'Reconsider' product use

Dr Bloch said: "Since there was no identifiable cause for prepubertal gynaecomastia in the three patients we reported, we speculated that environmental factors might be contributing to their condition.

"Together, the case histories and NIEHS studies provide support for our hypothesis that topical exposure to lavender and tea tree oils likely caused gynaecomastia in the three patients."

It is not known whether the oils could have similar effects on the endocrine systems of young girls, teenagers or adults.

But Dr Derek Hanley, who led the NIEHS research said the oils did not appear to alter the levels of the usual forms of hormones circulating in the boys' bodies.

And he said: "We do not anticipate any long term effects on hormonal levels."

Dr Ken Korach, who also worked on the study, said: "We want to encourage doctors who may be seeing patients with gynaecomastia to ask their patients about the products they are using.

"Patients with prepubertal gynaecomastia may want to consider reducing the use of products that contain these oils."

Professor Ieuan Hughes, a child hormone specialist at the University of Cambridge, said: "The scientists have shown a convincing effect, albeit on cell lines; that these oils can mimic oestrogens and act as anti-androgens [male hormones]."

He said: "We don't really understand gynaecomastia, but the consensus is that it's related to a hormone imbalance."

Professor Hughes said hormone levels in prepubescent boys were particularly sensitive to changes.

He added: "The next step is to see how widespread this problem is.

"As the researchers say, it is important to say people should be a little bit careful about using these products until we know more."

Lavender 'calms dental patients'

It soothes headaches and aids sleep - now lavender has been shown to help cope with a trip to the dentist.

A study of 340 people by King's College London researchers found those exposed to lavender oil scent were less anxious about the treatment ahead.

But the British Psychological Society conference heard lavender had no effect on their nerves about future treatment.

Dentists said techniques such as hypnotherapy, rather than oils, were common ways of helping calm patients.

All the patients studied were waiting for a scheduled dental appointment.

Half were exposed to the scent given off by a candle warmer activating five drops of lavender oil in water during regular clinics over a four-week period, while the rest were not.

The anxiety level of those not exposed to lavender was 10.7 compared with 7.4 among those smelling the scent.

'On-the-spot' treatment

Metaxia Kritsidima, who led the study, said: "A substantial number of people avoid going to dental surgeries because they are scared of the dentist, which can have a significant impact on their dental health.

"The anxiety experienced by these patients once they get to the dentist is stressful not only for them, but also for the dental team.

"Working under a state of increased tension may potentially compromise their performance, as well as lengthening appointment times.

"This is why finding a way of reducing dental anxiety is really important."

Lavender is known for its calming properties

Dr Koula Asimakopoulou, who also worked on the study, added: "This is a significant difference and it was present regardless of the type of dental appointment."

And she added: "Our findings suggest that lavender could certainly be used as an effective "on-the-spot" anxiety reduction in dentists' waiting rooms."

A spokeswoman for the British Dental Association said: "Dentists use a range of techniques to help patients feel calm; some specialise in hypnotherapy or counselling - but I haven't heard of anyone using lavender oil."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Varanus komodoensis is Indonesian Original Species

Komodo National Park is located in the center of the Indonesian archipelago, between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. Established in 1980, initially the main purpose of the Park was to conserve the unique Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) and its habitat. However, over the years, the goals for the Park have expanded to protecting its entire biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine. In 1986, the Park was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, both indications of the Park's biological importance.

Komodo National Park includes three major islands: Komodo, Rinca and Padar, as well as numerous smaller islands creating a total surface area (marine and land) of 1817km (proposed extensions would bring the total surface area up to 2,321km2). As well as being home to the Komodo dragon, the Park provides refuge for many other notable terrestrial species such as the orange-footed scrub fowl, an endemic rat, and the Timor deer. Moreover, the Park includes one of the richest marine environments including coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, seamounts, and semi-enclosed bays. These habitats harbor more than 1,000 species of fish, some 260 species of reef-building coral, and 70 species of sponges. Dugong, sharks, manta rays, at least 14 species of whales, dolphins, and sea turtles also make Komodo National Park their home.

Threats to terrestrial biodiversity include the increasing pressure on forest cover and water resources as the local human population has increased 800% over the past 60 years. In addition, the Timor deer population, the preferred prey source for the endangered Komodo dragon, is still being poached. Destructive fishing practices such as dynamite-, cyanide, and compressor fishing severely threaten the Park's marine resources by destroying both the habitat (coral reefs) and the resource itself (fish and invertebrate stocks). The present situation in the Park is characterized by reduced but continuing destructive fishing practices primarily by immigrant fishers, and high pressure on demersal stocks like lobsters, shellfish, groupers and napoleon wrasse. Pollution inputs, ranging from raw sewage to chemicals, are increasing and may pose a major threat in the future.

Today, the PKA Balai Taman Nasional Komodo and PT. Putri Naga Komodo are working together to protect the Park's vast resources. Our goals are to protect the Park's biodiversity (both marine and terrestrial) and the breeding stocks of commercial fishes for replenishment of surrounding fishing grounds. The main challenge is to reduce both threats to the resources and conflicts between incompatible activities. Both parties have a long term commitment to protecting the marine biodiversity of Komodo National Park.

The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is a species of lizard that inhabits the islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, and Gili Dasami, in central Indonesia. A member of the monitor lizard family (Varanidae), it is the largest living species of lizard, growing to an average length of 2–3 meters (approximately 6.5–10 ft) and weighing around 70 kilograms (154 lb). Their unusual size is attributed to island gigantism, since there are no other carnivorous animals to fill the niche on the islands where they live, and also to the Komodo dragon's low metabolic rate. As a result of their size, these lizards are apex predators, dominating the ecosystems in which they live. Although Komodo dragons eat mostly carrion, they will also hunt and ambush prey including invertebrates, birds, and mammals.

Mating begins between May and August, and the eggs are laid in September. About twenty eggs are deposited in abandoned megapode nests and incubated for seven to eight months, hatching in April, when insects are most plentiful. Young Komodo dragons are vulnerable and therefore dwell in trees, safe from predators and cannibalistic adults. They take around three to five years to mature, and may live as long as fifty years. They are capable of parthenogenesis, in which viable eggs are laid without fertilization by a male.

Komodo dragons were discovered by Western scientists in 1910. Their large size and fearsome reputation makes them popular zoo exhibits. In the wild their range has contracted due to human activities and they are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. They are protected under Indonesian law, and a national park, Komodo National Park, was founded to aid protection efforts.

The Komodo dragon is also known as the Komodo Monitor or the Komodo Island Monitor in scientific literature, although this is not very common. To the natives of Komodo Island, it is referred to as ora, buaya darat (land crocodile) or biawak raksasa (giant monitor).


The evolutionary development of the Komodo dragon started with the Varanus genus, which originated in Asia about 40 million years ago and migrated to Australia. Around 15 million years ago, a collision between Australia and Southeast Asia allowed the Varanids to move into what is now the Indonesian archipelago. The Komodo dragon is believed to have differentiated from its Australian ancestors 4 million years ago, extending their range to as far east as the island of Timor. The Ice Age and its dramatic sea level changes brought the islands that the Komodo dragons inhabited into their present locations, isolating them in their present range.


Closeup of a Komodo dragon's skin.

Closeup of a Komodo dragon's skin.

In the wild, an adult Komodo dragon usually weighs around 70 kilograms (154 lb), although captive specimens often weigh more. The largest verified wild specimen was 3.13 meters (10 ft 3 in) long and weighed 166 kilograms (365 lb), including undigested food. The Komodo dragon has a tail as long as its body, as well as about 60 frequently-replaced serrated teeth that can measure up to 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) in length. Its saliva is frequently blood-tinged, because its teeth are almost completely covered by gingival tissue that is naturally lacerated during feeding. This creates an ideal culture for the virulent bacteria that live in its mouth. It also has a long, yellow, deeply-forked tongue.


The Komodo dragon does not have a particularly acute sense of hearing, despite its visible earholes, and is only able to hear sounds between 400 and 2000 hertz.] It is able to see as far away as 300 meters (985 feet), but because its retinas only contain cones, it is thought to have poor night vision. The Komodo dragon is able to see in color, but has poor visual discrimination of stationary objects.

A basking Komodo dragon photographed at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

A basking Komodo dragon photographed at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

The Komodo dragon uses its tongue to detect taste and smell stimuli, as with many other reptiles, with the vomeronasal sense using a Jacobson's organ, a sense that aids navigation in the dark. With the help of a favorable wind and its habit of swinging its head from side to side as it walks, Komodo dragons may be able to detect carrion from 4–9.5 kilometres (2.5–6 mi) away. The dragon's nostrils are not of great use for smelling, as the animal does not have a diaphragm. It only has a few taste buds in the back of its throat. Its scales, some of which are reinforced with bone, have sensory plaques connected to nerves that facilitate its sense of touch. The scales around the ears, lips, chin, and soles of the feet may have three or more sensory plaques.

The Komodo dragon was formerly thought to be deaf when a study reported no agitation in wild Komodo dragons in response to whispers, raised voices, or shouts. This was disputed when London Zoological Garden employee Joan Proctor trained a captive specimen to come out to feed at the sound of her voice, even when she could not be seen.


Close-up of a Komodo dragon's foot and tail.

Close-up of a Komodo dragon's foot and tail.

The Komodo dragon prefers hot and dry places, and typically lives in dry open grassland, savanna, and tropical forest at low elevations. As an ectotherm, it is most active in the day, although it exhibits some nocturnal activity. Komodo dragons are largely solitary, coming together only to breed and eat. They are capable of running rapidly in brief sprints up to 20 kilometres per hour (12.4 mph), diving up to 4.5 metres (15 ft), and climbing trees proficiently when young through use of their strong claws. To catch prey that is out of reach, the Komodo dragon may stand on its hind legs and use its tail as a support. As the Komodo dragon matures, its claws are used primarily as weapons, as its great size makes climbing impractical.

For shelter, the Komodo dragon digs holes that can measure from 1–3 metres (3–10 ft) wide with its powerful forelimbs and claws. Because of its large size and habit of sleeping in these burrows, it is able to conserve body heat throughout the night and minimize its basking period the morning after. The Komodo dragon typically hunts in the afternoon, but stays in the shade during the hottest part of the day. These special resting places, usually located on ridges with a cool sea breeze, are marked with droppings and are cleared of vegetation. They also serve as a strategic location from which to ambush deer.


Komodo dragons on Rinca

Komodo dragons on Rinca

Komodo dragons are carnivores. Although they eat mostly carrion, they will also ambush live prey with a stealthy approach. When suitable prey arrives near a dragon's ambush site, it will suddenly charge at the animal and go for the underside or the throat. It is able to locate its prey using its keen sense of smell, which can locate a dead or dying animal from a range of up to 9.5 kilometers (6 miles). Komodo dragons have also been observed knocking down large pigs and deer with their strong tail.

Komodo dragons eat by tearing large chunks of flesh and swallowing them whole while holding the carcass down with their forelegs. For smaller prey up to the size of a goat, their loosely articulated jaws, flexible skull, and expandable stomach allow it to swallow its prey whole. The vegetable contents of the stomach and intestines are typically avoided. Copious amounts of red saliva that the Komodo dragons produce helps to lubricate the food, but swallowing is still a long process (15–20 minutes to swallow a goat). Komodo dragons may attempt to speed up the process by ramming the carcass against a tree to force it down its throat, sometimes ramming so forcefully that the tree is knocked down. To prevent itself from suffocating while swallowing, it breathes using a small tube under the tongue that connects to the lungs. After eating up to 80 percent of its body weight in one meal, it drags itself to a sunny location to speed digestion, as the food could rot and poison the dragon if left undigested for too long. Because of their slow metabolism, large dragons can survive on as little as 12 meals a year. After digestion, the Komodo dragon regurgitates a mass of horns, hair, and teeth known as the gastric pellet, which is covered in malodorous mucus. After regurgitating the gastric pellet, it rubs its face in the dirt or on bushes to get rid of the mucus, suggesting that it, like humans, does not relish the scent of its own excretions.

Young Komodo dragon photographed on Rinca feeding on a water buffalo carcass

Young Komodo dragon photographed on Rinca feeding on a water buffalo carcass

The largest animals generally eat first, while the smaller ones follow a hierarchy. The largest male asserts his dominance and the smaller males show their submission by use of body language and rumbling hisses. Dragons of equal size may resort to "wrestling." Losers usually retreat, though have been known to be killed and eaten by victors.

The Komodo dragon's diet is wide-ranging, and includes invertebrates, other reptiles (including smaller Komodo dragons), birds, bird eggs, small mammals, monkeys, wild boar, goats, deer, horses, and water buffalo. Young Komodos will eat insects, eggs, geckos, and small mammals. Occasionally they have been known to consume humans and human corpses, digging up bodies from shallow graves to do so. This habit of raiding graves caused the villagers of Komodo to move their graves from sandy to clay ground and pile rocks on top of them to deter the lizards. The Komodo dragon may have evolved to feed on the extinct dwarf elephant Stegodon that once lived on Flores, according to evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond. The Komodo dragon has also been observed intentionally startling a pregnant deer in the hopes of a miscarriage whose remains they can eat, a technique that has also been observed in large African predators.

Because the Komodo dragon does not have a diaphragm, it cannot suck water when drinking, nor can it lap water with its tongue. Instead, it drinks by taking a mouthful of water, lifting its head, and letting the water run down its throat.

Venom and bacteria

A sleeping Komodo dragon. Notice the large, curved claws used in fighting and eating.

A sleeping Komodo dragon. Notice the large, curved claws used in fighting and eating.

In late 2005, University of Melbourne researchers concluded that the Perentie (Varanus giganteus), other species of monitor, and agamids may be somewhat venomous. It had been thought that bites inflicted by these lizards were prone to infection because of bacteria in the lizards' mouths, but the research team showed that the immediate effects were caused by mild envenomation. Bites on human digits by a Lace Monitor (V. varius), a Komodo dragon, and a Spotted Tree Monitor (V. scalaris) were observed, and all produced similar results in humans: rapid swelling within minutes, localized disruption of blood clotting, shooting pain up to the elbow, with some symptoms lasting for several hours.

Komodo dragons also possess virulent bacteria in their saliva, of which more than 28 Gram-negative and 29 Gram-positive strains have been isolated. These bacteria cause septicemia in their victim; if an initial bite does not kill the prey animal and it escapes, it will commonly succumb within a week to the resulting infection. The deadliest bacteria in Komodo dragon saliva appears to be a very deadly strain of Pasteurella multocida, from studies performed with lab mice. Because the Komodo dragon appears immune to its own microbes, much research has been done searching for the antibacterial molecule in the hopes of human medicinal use.


Mating occurs between May and August, with the eggs laid in September. During this period, males fight over females and territory by grappling with one another upon their hind legs with the loser eventually being pinned to the ground. These males may vomit or defecate when preparing for the fight. The winner of the fight will then flick his long tongue at the female to gain information about her receptivity. Females are antagonistic and resist with their claws and teeth during the early phases of courtship. Therefore, the male must fully restrain the female during coitus to avoid being hurt. Other courtship displays include males rubbing their chins on the female, hard scratches to the back, and licking. Copulation occurs when the male inserts one of his hemipenes into the female's cloaca. Komodo dragons may be monogamous and form "pair bonds", a rare behavior for lizards.

In this image, the long tail and claws are fully visible.

In this image, the long tail and claws are fully visible.

The female lays her eggs in burrows cut into the side of a hill or in the abandoned nesting mounds of the Orange-footed Scrubfowl (a moundbuilder or megapode), with a preference for the abandoned mounds. Clutches contain an average of 20 eggs which have an incubation period of 7–8 months. The female lies on the eggs to incubate and protect them until they hatch around April, at the end of the rainy season when insects are plentiful. Hatching is an exhausting effort for the pups, who break out of their eggshells with an egg tooth that falls off soon after. After cutting out the hatchlings may lie in their eggshells for hours before starting to dig out of the nest. They are born quite defenseless, and many are eaten by predators.

Young Komodo dragons spend much of their first few years in trees, where they are relatively safe from predators, including cannibalistic adults, who make juvenile dragons 10% of their diet. According to David Attenborough, the habit of cannibalism may be advantageous in sustaining the large size of adults, as medium-sized prey on the islands is rare. When the young must approach a kill, they roll around in fecal matter and rest in the intestines of eviscerated animals to deter these hungry adults. Komodo dragons take about three to five years to mature, and may live for up to 50 years.


Main article: Parthenogenesis

A Komodo dragon at London Zoo named Sungai laid a clutch of eggs in late 2005 after being separated from male company for more than two years. Scientists initially assumed that she had been able to store sperm from her earlier encounter with a male, an adaptation known as superfecundation. On December 20, 2006, it was reported that Flora, a captive Komodo dragon living in the Chester Zoo in England, was the second known Komodo dragon to have laid unfertilized eggs: she laid 11 eggs, and 7 of them hatched, all of them male. Scientists at Liverpool University in northern England performed genetic tests on three eggs that collapsed after being moved to an incubator, and verified that Flora had had no physical contact with a male dragon. After Flora's eggs' condition had been discovered, testing showed that Sungai's eggs were also produced without outside fertilization.

Parthenogenetic baby Komodo dragon, Chester Zoo, England

Parthenogenetic baby Komodo dragon, Chester Zoo, England

Komodo dragons have the ZW chromosomal sex-determination system, as opposed to the mammalian XY system. Male progeny prove that Flora's unfertilized eggs were haploid (n) and doubled their chromosomes later to become diploid (2n) means of a polar body, rather than it being the case that she laid diploid eggs (as would have happened if one of the meiosis reduction-divisions in her ovaries had failed). When a female Komodo dragon (with ZW sex chromosomes) reproduces in this manner, she provides her progeny with only one chromosome from each of her pairs of chromosomes, including only one of her two sex chromosomes. This single set of chromosomes is duplicated in the egg, which develops parthenogenetically. Eggs receiving a Z chromosome become ZZ (male); those receiving a W chromosome become WW and fail to develop.

It has been hypothesized that this reproductive adaptation allows a single female to enter an isolated ecological niche (such as an island) and by parthenogenesis produce male offspring, thereby establishing a sexually reproducing population (via reproduction with her offspring that can result in both male and female young). Despite the advantages of such an adaptation, zoos are cautioned that parthenogenesis may be detrimental to genetic diversity, due to the obvious necessity of breeding between the only female mother and male offspring.

On January 31, 2008, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas became the first zoo in the Americas to document parthenogenesis in Komodo dragons. The zoo has two adult female Komodo dragons, one of which laid about 17 eggs on May 19-May 20, 2007. Only two eggs were incubated and hatched due to space issues; the first hatched on January 31, 2008 while the second hatched on February 1. Both hatchlings were males.


Discovery by the Western world

Komodo dragon coin, issued by Indonesia

Komodo dragon coin, issued by Indonesia

Komodo dragons were first documented by Europeans in 1910, when rumors of a "land crocodile" reached Lieutenant van Steyn van Hensbroek of the Dutch colonial administration. Widespread notoriety came after 1912, when Peter Ouwens, the director of the Zoological Museum at Bogor, Java, published a paper on the topic after receiving a photo and a skin from the lieutenant, as well as two other specimens from a collector. Later, the Komodo dragon was the driving factor for an expedition to Komodo Island by W. Douglas Burden in 1926. After returning with 12 preserved specimens and 2 live ones, this expedition provided the inspiration for the 1933 movie King Kong. It was also Burden who coined the common name "Komodo dragon." Three of his specimens were stuffed and are still on display in the American Museum of Natural History.


The Dutch, realizing the limited number of individuals in the wild, outlawed sport hunting and heavily limited the number of individuals taken for scientific study. Collecting expeditions ground to a halt with the occurrence of World War II, not resuming until the 1950s and 1960s, when studies examined the Komodo dragon's feeding behavior, reproduction, and body temperature. At around this time, an expedition was planned in which a long-term study of the Komodo dragon would be undertaken. This task was given to the Auffenberg family, who stayed on Komodo Island for 11 months in 1969. During their stay, Walter Auffenberg and his assistant Putra Sastrawan captured and tagged more than 50 Komodo dragons. The research from the Auffenberg expedition would prove to be enormously influential in raising Komodo dragons in captivity. Research after the Auffenberg family has shed more light on the nature of the Komodo dragon, with biologists such as Claudio Ciofi continuing to study the creatures.


Komodo dragon on Komodo Island.

Komodo dragon on Komodo Island.

The Komodo dragon is a vulnerable species and is found on the IUCN Red List. There are approximately 4,000-5,000 living Komodo dragons in the wild. Their populations are restricted to the islands of Gili Motang (100), Gili Dasami (100), Rinca (1,300), Komodo (1,700), and Flores (perhaps 2,000). However, there are concerns that there may presently be only 350 breeding females. To address these concerns, the Komodo National Park was founded in 1980 to protect Komodo dragon populations on islands including Komodo, Rinca, and Padar. Later, the Wae Wuul and Wolo Tado Reserves were opened on Flores to aid with Komodo dragon conservation. There is evidence that Komodo dragons are becoming accustomed to human presence, as they are often fed animal carcasses at several feeding stations by tourists.

Volcanic activity, earthquakes, loss of habitat, fire (the population at Padar was almost destroyed because of a wildfire, and has since mysteriously disappeared), loss of prey, tourism, and poaching have all contributed to the vulnerable status of the Komodo dragon. Under Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), commercial trade of skins or specimens is illegal.

The Australian biologist Tim Flannery has suggested that Australian ecosystem may benefit from the introduction of Komodo dragons, as it could partially occupy the large-carnivore niche left vacant following the extinction of the giant varanid Megalania. However, he argues for great caution and gradualness in these acclimatisation experiments, especially as "the problem of predation of large varanids upon humans should not be understated". He uses the example of the successful coexistence with saltwater crocodiles as evidence that Australians could successfully adjust.

Although attacks are very rare, Komodo dragons have been known to kill humans. On June 4, 2007, a Komodo dragon attacked an eight year old boy on Komodo Island. He later died of massive bleeding from his wounds. It was the first recorded fatal attack in 33 years. Natives blamed the attack on environmentalists angering the monitors by discontinuing goat sacrifices. To the natives of Komodo Island, the Komodo dragon is actually the reincarnation of fellow kinspeople, and are thus treated with reverence.

In captivity

Komodo dragon at Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Despite the visible earholes, Komodo dragons cannot hear very well.

Komodo dragon at Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Despite the visible earholes, Komodo dragons cannot hear very well.

Komodo dragons have long been great zoo attractions, where their size and reputation make them popular exhibits. They are, however, rare in zoos because they are susceptible to infection and parasitic disease if captured from the wild, and do not readily reproduce.

The first Komodo dragon was exhibited in 1934 at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, but it lived for only two years. More attempts to exhibit Komodo dragons were made, but the lifespan of these creatures was very short, averaging 5 years in the National Zoological Park. Studies done by Walter Auffenberg, which were documented in his book The Behavioral Ecology of the Komodo Monitor, eventually allowed for more successful managing and reproducing of the dragons in captivity.

It has been observed in captive dragons that many individuals display relatively tame behavior within a short period of time in captivity. Many occurrences are reported where keepers have brought the animals out of their enclosures to interact with zoo visitors, including young children, to no harmful effect. Dragons are also capable of recognizing individual humans. Ruston Hartdegen of the Dallas Zoo reported that their Komodo dragons reacted differently when presented with their regular keeper, a less familiar keeper, or a completely unfamiliar keeper.

Research with captive Komodo dragons has also provided evidence that they engage in play. One study concerned an individual who would push a shovel left by its keeper, apparently attracted to the sound of it scraping across the rocky surface. A young female dragon at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. would grab and shake various objects including statues, beverage cans, plastic rings and blankets. She would also insert her head into boxes, shoes, and other objects. She did not confuse these objects with food, as she would only swallow them if they were covered in rat blood. This social play has led to a striking comparison with mammalian play.

Komodo dragons at Toronto Zoo. Komodo dragons in captivity often grow fat, especially in their tails, due to regular feeding.

Komodo dragons at Toronto Zoo. Komodo dragons in captivity often grow fat, especially in their tails, due to regular feeding.

Another documentation of play in Komodo dragons comes from the University of Tennessee, where a young Komodo dragon named "Kraken" interacted with plastic rings, a shoe, a bucket, and a tin can by nudging them with her snout, swiping at them, and carrying them around in her mouth. She treated all of them differently than her food, prompting leading researcher Gordon Burghardt to conclude that they disprove the view of object play being "food-motivated predatory behavior." Kraken was the first Komodo dragon hatched in captivity outside of Indonesia, born in the National Zoo in September 13, 1992.

Even seemingly docile dragons may become aggressive unpredictably, especially when the animal's territory is invaded by someone unfamiliar. In June 2001, a Komodo dragon seriously injured Phil Bronstein—executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle—when he entered its enclosure at the Los Angeles Zoo after being invited in by its keeper. Bronstein was bitten on his bare foot, as the keeper had told him to take off his white shoes, which could have potentially excited the Komodo dragon. Although he escaped, he needed to have several tendons in his foot reattached surgically.