Monitoring the abundances of prey is important for informing the management of threatened and endangered predators. We evaluated the usefulness of faecal counts and distance sampling for monitoring the abundances of rusa deer Rusa timorensis, feral pig Sus scrofa and water buffalo Bubalus bubalis, the three key prey of the Komodo dragon Varanus komodoensis, at 11 sites on five islands in and around Komodo National Park, eastern Indonesia. We used species-specific global detection functions and cluster sizes (i.e. multiple covariates distance sampling) to estimate densities of rusa deer and feral pig, but there were too few observations to estimate densities of water buffalo. Rusa deer densities varied from from 2.5 to 165.5 deer/km2 with coefficients of variation (CVs) of 15-105%. Feral pig densities varied from 0.0 to 25.2 pigs/km2 with CVs of 25-106%. There was a positive relationship between estimated faecal densities and estimated population densities for both rusa deer and feral pig: the form of the relationship was non-linear for rusa deer, but there was similar support for linear and non-linear relationships for feral pig. We found that faecal counts were more useful when ungulate densities were too low to estimate densities with distance sampling. Faecal count methods were also easier for field staff to conduct than distance sampling. Because spatial and temporal variation in ungulate density is likely to influence the population dynamics of the Komodo dragon, we recommend that annual monitoring of ungulates in and around Komodo National Park be undertaken using distance sampling and faecal counts. The relationships reported here will also be useful for managers establishing monitoring programmes for feral pig, rusa deer and water buffalo elsewhere in their native and exotic ranges.
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