The Komodo dragon, Varanus komodoensis, is the world’s largest species of monitor lizard, now confined to five islands in southeastern Indonesia. Wild populations are threatened by habitat encroachment and depletion of prey species.
To date, more than 200 individuals are kept in 42 zoological gardens worldwide. For several individuals that hatched in captivity, parentage analysis using pedigree information has been hampered by absence of detailed records. Moreover, in lizards, female reproductive tracts may retain viable sperm for long periods such that multiple paternity may occur, rendering assessment of parental relationships more difficult. All these reasons make molecular genetics an essential tool for assisting international breeding programs.
The laboratory of Pr. Milinkovitch has therefore teamed with Claudio Ciofi (University of Florence, Italy), initiator of the Komodo Dragon captive breeding program, for the development of genetic markers for the fine-scale analysis of wild populations of Dragons. These markers also allows for determining population(s) of origin of captive animals, parentage analyses in captive breeding programs, and insuring the maintenance of genetically viable repatriated populations.