The Wae Wuul protection plan was developed to protect the remnant Komodo dragon population in Wae Wuul and avoid expansion of habitat encroachment. The project has four main components: community awareness, patrolling and law enforcement, involvement of the local community in protection and conservation and capacity building.
The Wae Wuul nature reserve is situated on the west coast of the island of Flores in Indonesia. In recent years, Komodo dragons on this island have been poorly protected. Feral and domestic dogs are often used to illegally hunt deer, the main prey source of Komodo dragons. In addition, poachers frequently light bushfires, to promote grass growth and fresh grazing grounds for deer, which are then easily located by the hunters and their dogs.
The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is the largest existing species of lizard; adult males can reach 3 metres in length and 80 kg weight. It is a carnivorous animal that captures live prey, although it also feeds on carrion. It inhabits areas of deciduous forest and savannah, from sea level to 800 metres height.
The Komodo dragon is endemic to five islands in South-Eastern Indonesia, four of which – Komodo, Rinca, Gili and Gili Dasami Motang – form the Komodo National Park, was founded in 1980. The fifth island, Flores, is the largest of all and has two natural reserves: the Wae Wuul on the West coast and Wolo Tadó on the North coast. The current population of Komodo National Park is estimated at less than 2,000 individuals.
The population on the island of Flores is less known; there was estimated to be a population of 66 individuals at Wae Wuul in 1991. Its density is up to four times lower than the other four islands where the species lives and the threats to dragons have increased in recent years due to illegal hunting of Timor deer (Cervus Timorensis), the main food source of the Komodo dragon.
In 2005 the creation of a protection program on Wae Wuul Reserve for a minimum of three years was proposed, in which the EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) would be the main participant. The programme anticipates carrying out activities to educate the communities that live around the reserve, and the creation of patrols and services to reinforce the application of local laws,
Komodo dragons are restricted to 5 southern Indonesian islands and they have the smallest range of any large predator in the world. On the island of Flores, where this project is based, there is estimated to only be 160 individuals left. In 2004, it was estimated that in Wae Wuul alone there was 1 komodo per 60ha, however no reports have been done since then to find out current density sizes. The project is working hard to protect its current unknown population of Komodo dragons.
In 2007, the non-governmental organization Komodo Survival Program (KSP) was established to secure a long-term collaboration with the Flores branch of the Indonesian Department of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (BBKSDA) and the Komodo National Park (KNP) authority. A Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) was drafted for KSP to be a consultant and co-supervisor for habitat protection and wildlife conservation activities in the Wae Wuul nature reserve and Flores, which was eventually signed in March 2008.
The project purchased a new generator for their renovated sentry post and electric supplies were installed. A weather station was installed at the Wae Wuul sentry post meaning they can now record air temperature, relative humidity and rainfall. Balai Besar Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam (BBKSDA) staff were trained in wildlife monitoring techniques, which they could then use out in the field.
A population survey was conducted and 17 Komodos were captured using baited trapping stations. The lizards were each measured and fitted with a transponder. A prey population survey was also conducted, this was done by faecal counts, as direct methods like observing the prey are difficult as they will avoid people. The 2009 survey found there was an increase in deer and water buffalo numbers in Wae Wuul, however no pellets of wild boar were recorded. The community awareness part of the project continued with regular meetings, which were held in 3 villages living on the edge of the reserve.
These meetings are aimed at maintaining community interest in Wae Wuul natural habitats and wildlife. The local community with help from BBKSDA continued with their patrolling and law enforcement activities. Patrolling was done every other day during June and July on 5 paths covering key areas of the reserve. During the 2009 patrols, a few fires were extinguished and 3 feral dogs were captured. The presence of dogs poses a real threat to wildlife of Wae Wuul as they hunt deer and thus compete for food with Komodo dragons.
It is hoped that once the Wae Wuul Protection Plan becomes established as a regular, annual initiative then illegal activities within the park boundaries will stop completely and Komodo dragon numbers will increase.