The world's largest lizard (up to 3 meters long) only needs one bite to infect its prey, and then it will stalk it - patiently, cold-bloodedly - until it keels over; and yes, if no living prey is available, it will gladly dig up human graves...
The Komodo dragon is the closest thing to a dinosaur that we have today on Earth, and to the "epic fantasy" wicked dragons. Its teeth are covered in bleeding tissue, its mouth copiously bleeds every time it feeds, drooling venomous saliva and flicking its long yellow forked tongue. Certainly, these ancient critters are dangerous, awesome and unique (get ready for the "Predator vs. Komodo Dragons" movie).
Derrick Pereira is a tech junkie, world traveler and photography enthusiast living in Dubai. He writes to us about his recent journey to the island of Rinca, Indonesia, in search of the mighty Komodo Dragon:
"Komodo dragons have become a noted topic in the press recently after an Indonesian fisherman was mauled and killed while trespassing on Komodo island. Now, what was this fisherman doing on the island in the first place you ask? Searching for lost treasure? Nope. Saving a damsel in distress? Nope… apparently, he went hunting for sugar apples. Yes. Hunting for sugar apples, on an island known for its population of 1,500 Komodo dragons. If you ask me, the media should be handing this guy a Darwin award.
The fact is, Komodo dragons are dangerous and should not be taken lightly. They are active, agile predators with razor sharp teeth and have the ability to climb trees, swim or outrun any human. They can also detect prey 10 kilometers away (are you kidding me?), they live 50 years... and they use pretty evil hunting tricks: "Komodo dragon has also been observed intentionally startling a pregnant deer in the hopes of a miscarriage whose remains they can eat, a technique that has also been observed in large African predators" (source)
Komodo dragons can be found, natively, only on two islands in Indonesia - Komodo and Rinca. We decided to visit Rinca (home to approx. 1,500 dragons) which took us two and a half hours by boat (one way) from Seraya Island; plus we got to see a pod of dolphins on the way -
All visitors to the national park must be accompanied by a ranger who also serves as your guide through the national park area. A fact, further drilled in by the park management, as they pointed to some dried up blood stains on the window left by a ranger who’d been attacked, a week earlier, by a dragon (he survived). Staying on the path becomes imperative:
Our first encounter with dragons was close to the Park HQ, just next to the kitchen area. Four Komodo dragons, attracted by the scent of food, sat around the area in the hopes of scoring a quick meal. The park officials never feed any of the dragons or they’ll get into the habit of coming back for more.
Fifteen minutes into the trek we see a fully grown adult Komodo dragon walking straight towards us… head swinging, tongue lashing and feet pacing one after the next, this Komodo was on the prowl! We moved off the path and into the grass to let him pass by:
"Coming face to face with the Komodo Dragons in their natural habitat is somewhat humbling. These huge lizards, up to 3 metres in length, have no fear of humans but humans certainly have reason to fear the Dragons - two tourists have died while visiting these apex predators on the remote Indonesian island of Komodo.
The Dragons infamously have a bacteria-ridden mouth (their saliva is extremely toxic and mixed with blood) that causes death by infection from a single bite - the dragons bite their prey and then track the unfortunate victim for days if necessary while waiting for it to die. (Human bite victims, if treated early with a broad range of antibiotics, do have a good chance of surviving)
The size of their victims? Well, these water buffaloes are the dragon's favorite snack:
There is only one town (known as a kampung) on the island of Komodo, but the whole island and the seas around it are part of the Komodo National Park, put in place in the 1980s to protect the Dragon and the other creatures of this remote island habitat. The Dragons themselves were only discovered in 1911, and the remoteness of their natural habitat adds to the feel of having stepped back to somewhere truly primeval.
It is not easy to get to this remote island
We arrived at Komodo early one morning after three days sail from Bali on a scuba diving liveaboard around Komodo. Even in the 21st century, it is not easy to get to this remote island, which accounts for why it's still not a major tourist destination (to reach Rinca Island you'll have to haggle for a boat charter from Labuanbajo). Infrastructure on the island for tourists is also very basic, and besides, you have to keep a lookout for the Dragons wherever you are on Komodo - there are around 6000 of them living on the island.
We took an hour long walk into the bush (in at least 35 degrees celsius heat and full humidity) with our two watchful guides, both armed with big forked sticks to keep any marauding dragons at bay. The island's landscape is desolately beautiful, the sun having reduced all the foliage to dry brown scrub. The arid climate is the result of hot dry winds blowing from the Australian continent. Apparently when the rainy season begins later in December the island transforms into lush green pasture within the space of two months.
We didn't spot a Komodo Dragon while on our walk, which was a obviously a shame. It would be necessary to spend several days on Komodo to properly explore the island. However, daytrippers like us don't go away empty-handed - there are several Dragons that actually live around the Conservation Headquarters - they're particularly fond of camping out in the shade of the kitchen hut. You can smell them before you see them - given their foul mouths, personal hygiene is also not high on the Komodo Dragon agenda.
Cannibal dragons eat their own young
The Dragons are not afraid to stand on one another to reach for the food (dangled from a pole above them) and demonstrate dominance - indeed, they are known cannibals, eating their own young on occasion... Occasionally they consume humans and human corpses, digging up bodies from shallow graves... They also make a distinct hissing sound when scenting food which is a warning to other Dragons to back off, although it has the same effect on humans too.
Komodo dragon hatchling... does not look so scary, yet:
They are fascinating creatures and to see them in their natural habitat - albeit with some help from the kitchen slop bin - made it seem all the more possible that the Dragons are a throwback to prehistoric creatures. It also makes me wonder what else is living on Indonesia's other 17,000 islands, many of which have never been fully explored and charted."
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