The East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) provincial administration and a local conservation initiative are carrying out a joint program to monitor Komodo dragons in the province over the course of the next two years in a bid to better map out the population spread of the endangered species in its natural habitat.

NTT Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) technical division head Maman Suharman said the survey, jointly launched by the BKSDA and the Denpasar-based Komodo Survival Program (KSP) Foundation in May, aimed to monitor the presence of Komodo dragons by installing camera-trap units in a number of surveillance areas in Flores, one of the province’s largest islands, and smaller islands surrounding it.

The surveillance points for the project, Maman said, had been determined based on studies and reports of sightings of the creature. Each point, he added, was equipped with two camera traps, which would automatically record pictures and videos of wildlife in the vicinity.

“We put boxes filled with meat in front of the camera traps. The smell of the meat will attract Komodo dragons,” he told The Jakarta Post recently.

Most Komodo dragons are found on Komodo and Rinca islands, which together make up the 1,800-square-kilometer Komodo National Park.

In 1986, UNESCO declared the Park as a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve, at which park visitors can see Komodo dragons in their natural habitat and explore the beauty of fish and coral reef in the water around the islands.

The park’s management has estimated that there are currently 2,500 living within the limits of the park, which is located to the west of Flores. The number living outside the park, however, is unknown.

The discovery of Komodo dragons in the neighboring areas of the park would be significant, as it would indicate that the species can survive outside of protected areas.

KSP researcher Ahmad Ariefiandy said the joint survey would focus on mapping out the spread of Komodo dragon population in Flores and smaller surrounding islands. The survey, he added, would be carried out in stages from 2015 to 2017 to accommodate fluctuating water levels in the island’s waterways.

During the first stage of the survey, held from May to June, the project saw camera traps installed in 43 surveillance points between Labuan Bajo in West Manggarai regency and Maumere in Sikka regency, both located in northern Flores.

“By the end of this year, we aim to have 75 surveillance areas covered by camera traps,” he said.

The initial stage of the survey, he went on, had provided useful information about the recent spread of Komodo dragons.

According to Ahmad, researchers have been able confirm the existence of Komodo dragons in Wolo Tadho conservation forest in Ngada regency. However, no Komodo dragons were found at Watu Manuk Peninsula Cape or Maumere Bay, despite writings published in the mid-1980s that reported sightings of the creature in those areas.

“Information about the spread of the Komodo dragon population is piecemeal at the moment. By the time the survey is completed, we will have comprehensive data on the matter,” Ahmad said.