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Queensland claims the Komodo dragon -

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ELEANOR HALL: It is officially the world's largest lizard. It weighs around 70 kilograms. It grows
to three metres long and until now scientists have assumed that the Komodo dragon was a native of
Indonesia.

But a team of Australian researchers says that's not the case.

Science reporter Sarah Clarke has more.

SARAH CLARKE: Once reputed to be the origin of the Chinese dragon myth, the Komodo lizard is now in
such small numbers it's considered a vulnerable species.

The remaining 5,000 or so live on a handful of isolated islands in eastern Indonesia, which many
scientists always believed was their birthplace.

But the discovery of an array of rather large bones at three different sites across Queensland has
triggered a new theory.

Scott Hocknull from the Queensland Museum led the international team of scientists. He says the
bones they found are identical to the Komodo dragon.

SCOTT HOCKNULL: It was a particular set of fossils that were found at Mount Etna in Queensland that
were dated around 300,000 years old that really sparked my interest because I was the person who
helped find the material.

I was figuring out what on earth they were and then my assumption was it was just going to be
another species of lizard that lived in Australia and still does, so for example a Lace Monitor or
something, but it was much, much bigger.

The fossils that were found in Queensland in eastern Australia show that the Komodo dragon had its
origins here in Australia about four million years ago and persisted in Australia to at least
300,000 years ago and perhaps even younger than that.

But what it shows is that, again, Australia is home to some very strange, very peculiar animals
that now no longer live on our continent and have found a home elsewhere.

SARAH CLARKE: After Australia, this group of scientists believe the Komodo dragon dispersed
westward, reaching the island of Flores by 900,000 years ago.

But the size of the fossils found in Australia suggest it was always a large, land based lizard and
it spent four million years here before it became extinct.

The question is what caused its extinction?

SCOTT HOCKNULL: Well we don't know because a 300,000 year record is the youngest record that we
have, but we can assume that the Komodo may have kicked along in Australia right up until human
arrival, there's no reason to assume not.

But perhaps humans were the cause of their extinction, perhaps it was climate change, perhaps a
combination of both, but what the record on Flores shows in Indonesia is that the Komodo dragon was
there for over a million years kicking along quite nicely. Big faunal changes, volcanic eruptions -
all these amazing things happening on that island and yet the Komodo dragon just existed without
any major issues until about 2,000 years ago, and its range is severely retracted to the coast
lines of where it is now found and the only thing you can link that to is habitat destruction and
persecution by modern humans.

SARAH CLARKE: The Komodo dragon is well known as a man-eater and would have no doubt put up a good
fight against modern man.

So why did it survive and thrive on the tiny isolated Indonesian island of Flores? Well known
palaeontologist Tim Flannery has a theory.

TIM FLANNERY: Well it became extinct, we think, about, you know, 50-odd-thousand years ago about
the time that humans arrived in Australia, and of course it disappeared from every other island in
Indonesia except Flores.

And the one interesting thing about Flores is that's the home of the hobbit. So the hobbit was
there about two million years and maybe hobbit hunting was a bit like preschool for the Komodo
dragon, you know, they learnt how to deal with, kind of human-like at least hunters, whereas in
Australia and the rest of the islands the first thing that turned up was fully modern humans and
they seemed not to have been able, you know, to cope with that.

ELEANOR HALL: Scientist Tim Flannery with Sarah Clarke.