By: Ardiantiono Tim S. Jessop, Deni Purwandana, Claudio Ciof, M. Jeri Imansyah, Maria Rosdalima Panggur, Achmad Ariefandy
Understanding how threatened wildlife can coexist with humans over the long term is a central issue in conservation and wildlife management. Komodo National Park in Eastern Indonesia, harbors the largest extant populations of the endemic Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis). Consistent with global trends, this species is expected to be increasingly exposed to human activities and in particular growing ecotourism activities. Here we comprehensively evaluated how human activities afected individual and population level attributes of Komodo dragons. We compared Komodo dragons phenotypic (behaviour, body size, and body condition) and demographic (age structure, sex ratio, survival, and density) responses to variation in human activities across national park. Komodo dragons were found to exhibit pronounced responses to high human activity level relative to sites with low and negligible human activities. Komodo dragons exposed to ecotourism exhibited signifcantly less wariness, larger body mass, better body condition, and higher survival. These results are entirely consistent with ecotourism activities that provided Komodo dragons with long-term and substantial nutritional subsidies as a consequence of feeding and human food refuse. However, we also noted the potential negative consequences of altered behaviour and adult-biased populations in ecotourism areas which may infuence demographic processes through intraspecifc competition or predation. To address this issue, we recommend that three management strategies to be implemented in future include: (1) removal of human-mediated nutritional subsidies, (2) alternative ecotourism, and (3) spatial regulation of ecotourism. Furthermore, we advocate the development of approaches to achieve a socio–ecological sustainability that benefts both people and wildlife conservation.
Animal behaviour · Ecotourism · Human–wildlife interactions · Phenotypic consequences · Population demography · Protected areas · Wildlife management