The distribution of Komodo dragon populations on Flores has been declining since 1971, when Walter Auffenberg from the Florida Museum of Natural History conducted the first detailed, although not comprehensive survey on the species’ natural habitat. Range contraction was the result of expansion of human settlements, illegal hunting of prey species and habitat conversion to pasture and small-scale agriculture.
Conservation work conducted by our NGO Komodo Survival Program has so far included a strong community component targeting local villages and schools with programs enhancing awareness on the importance of protecting natural habitat and wildlife. In 2016, a new initiative was implemented in northern Flores whereby local people perception about wildlife was systematically recorded through in-depth interviews and human-Komodo dragon conflict events were assessed for the first time in order to plan possible mitigation measures.
We predicted that a number of factors including background knowledge about natural habitats and wildlife, personal experience and attitude, as well as livelihood needs were important players in shaping people perception of wildlife conservation. We interviewed people from six villages in the Pota district (Golo Lijun, Nampar Sepang, Pota, Nanga Mbaur, Nanga Mbaling and Nanga Baras) and three villages from the Riung nature reserve (Nanga Mese, Sambinasi and Tadho). A total of 270 persons agreed to be interviewed. People living in these villages are fisherman and farmers. Most farmers are also small-scale livestock breeders (local cattle, buffaloes, chickens and goats). Habitat encroachment and occasional illegal hunting on Komodo dragon preys have recently resulted in Komodo dragons getting closer to the forest edge adjacent to human settlements, increasing frequency of human-wildlife conflict events.
We used in-depth interviews and questionnaires to define people perception towards wildlife and assess frequency and type of human-Komodo dragon conflicts. Our methods were based on the Comfortable Interpersonal Distance Scale, Attitudes toward Animals Scale, Behavioral Intention Scale and affections measurement.