I have always been curious whether the Komodo Dragon found on the island of Komodo, located between Sumbawa and Flores, is a large goanna (lizard) caused by island gigantisism or the last of the Australian megafauna, which we know from fossil evidence used to range over Australia up to 50,000 years ago . Well here is the answer:
Megalania is an extinct giant goanna or monitor lizard that was part of a megafaunal assemblage that inhabited southern Australia during the Pliestocene. The youngest fossil remains date to around 50,000 years ago. It is thought that the first aboriginal settlers of Australia would have encountered them and been a factor in their extinction.
Giant varanids were once a ubiquitous part of Australasian faunas during the Neogene. Extinction played a pivotal role in the reduction of their ranges and diversity throughout the late Quaternary, leaving only Varanus komodoensis in Indonesia as an isolated long-term survivor. The events over the last two millennia now threaten its future survival.
Dragon’s Paradise Lost: Palaeobiogeography, Evolution and Extinction of the Largest-Ever Terrestrial Lizards (Varanidae)
The conclusion from the above paper published in the Public Library of Science reads:
We conclude that Varanus komodoensis is the last of a clade of giant varanids that was once a ubiquitous part of Australasia, distributed from Australia across Wallacea, as far as Java. There is now only a relict population on Flores and a few small adjacent islands. Komodo dragon distribution has also retracted significantly on Flores itself; being present at Liang Bua in the uplands of West Flores until ∼2 ka, but now only occurring in isolated habitats along the northern and western coastal lowlands. The retraction is likely due to habitat loss and persecution by modern humans over the last few millennia and emphasizes the continuing threat of extinction to this, the last of the giant varanids.
The Komodo dragon’s diet is wide-ranging and includes other reptiles (including smaller Komodo dragons), birds, bird eggs, small mammals, monkeys, wild boar, goats, deer, horses, and water buffalo.The Komodo dragon will attack children and there have been deaths in the few villages on the island but it rarely attacks adults.
The most well-known adult victim is Baron Von Reding Biberegg, a Swiss man who disappeared on Komodo Island in 1974. Walking inland with a group to observe the dragons, the Baron was breathing heavily and stopping frequently. He told the other members to go on ahead while he sat down to rest. He may have fallen asleep or suffered a medical condition for when his party returned all that remained was his hat, his camera and a bloody shoe.
My thanks to Oscar Croshaw for directing me to the paper on Dragon’s Paradise Lost
To read more about Komodo Island and the Komodo Dragon find the book
Archipelago: A Journey Across Indonesia, by Ian Burnet