Komodo National Park was established in 1980 and was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve (MAB) by UNESCO in 1986. The park was initially established to conserve the unique Komodo dragon. The Komodo dragon (Ora in the local language) was first discovered by the scientific world in 1911. P.A. Ouwens, curator at the Bogor Zoological Museum, received a report on the discovery of the dragon from J.K.H. Van Steyn, an official of the Netherlands Indies government. Ouwens gave the animal the scientific name Varanus komodoensis Ouwens in 1912 in an article in the “Bulletin du Jardin Botanique de Buitenzorg”, entitled “On a large Varanus species from the island of Komodo”.
Komodo dragons typically shelter in the forest at night, or in burrows, and come out to sun themselves (to regulate their body temperature) in the grasslands during the day. It is typically found in the lowlands, often near the beach, but does use the higher elevations occasionally. The population on Komodo Island was estimated to be 1,061 individuals in 1998, down from 1,722 in 1997. Additional data are needed to verify that large fluctuations in population size are not simply an artifact of the methods employed. The decline appears to be due to high mortality rates in the young and juvenile classes. On Rinca Island, the total population was estimated to be 1,344 individuals. Auffenberg in 1970 estimated that the population size on Komodo Island was 2,348 and 792 for Rinca Island, with approximately 5,713 individuals throughout their entire range (including Flores) (Auffenberg, 1981 in Komodo Dragon PHVA,1995).
As the methodology was different, direct comparisons can not be made between the two data sets. At that point in time (1970), the adult male : adult female sex ratio was approximately 3.4:1. It is extremely difficult to distinguish males and females; in some males the precloacal scales are arranged into a crude rosette. This pattern has not been observed in females. A more reliable method of sexing these animals is based on genetic markers. Recent data obtained by Claudio Ciofi suggest that there are important genetic differences between the Komodo and Rinca Island populations of this species. Rinca is closely affiliated with Flores and Gilli Mota. Recent surveys conducted by Claudio Ciofi, park rangers and a student from Udayana University on Padar did not find any evidence of the species, and they appear to have gone locally extinct there.