Link - by Derrick Pereira, Chris Mitchell, A. Abrams.

Marauding Dragons on a Desolate Island

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).

(images credit: Antonio Drusko, Derrick Pereira)

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.

(photos by Derrick Pereira)

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)

photo by Derrick Pereira

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 -

(images credit: Anna Munandar, Derrick Pereira)

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:

photos by Derrick Pereira

Let sleeping dragons lie

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.

photo by Derrick Pereira

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:

photos by Derrick Pereira

Komodo dragon can kill a man with a single bite

Chris Mitchell from TravelHappy also sent us an account of getting close with Komodo dragons. You might remember Chris Mitchell from her previous appearance on DRB with The Plain of Jars in Laos.

(image credit: Maarja)

"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:

photos by Derrick Pereira

When they move, they move fast, as you can see from this very shaky video - it's shaky because I was backing away from their lethal bite.


Dangerous, dung-mouthed and drooling - what, then, is the enduring appeal of the Komodo Dragon on our collective imaginations?

The scorched mountains of Komodo certainly look like a real world Jurassic Park, abruptly rising from the sea beneath a relentless sun with little sign of human settlement:

Viewpoint on Rinca island, photo by Ken

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.

(image credit: Dims)

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.

(image credit: Den Ryske)

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:

(image credit: Frank Peters)

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."

(image credit: Emilie Eagan)

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Anonymous Poppy said...

Very interesting article and awesome pictures. Well done to all the photographers.

Blogger Jim said...

Good article. An interesting fact for you, Komodo Dragons are capable of parthenogenisis, this is the ability to produce offspring without mating. There is a dragon exhibit at my local zoo and a few years back, a female who had no male contact ever, produced several baby dragons! So much for the "miracle of the virgin birth." Its worth looking into this fascinating process. I am a member of the zoo and visit often, I though the keeper was kidding when they told us about it.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A sillily pedantic point: I'd always been told (as an NZer) that the Tuatara (a much slower, less bitey animal) was the closest thing to dinosaurs that were still living.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No need to go to remote islands! there are loads in malasia , in KL (the capital) just head for the hills, near the park, i saw 20+ just walking around, i didnt realise they could kill a man so i tried to grab one of their tails! it snapped at me but didnt get me, i left them alone after that! i have photos of them if anyone is intrested

Anonymous AC said...

Some amazing snaps in this informative article. The closest I got to one was at the zoo. Magnificent looking creatures.

Blogger Jason Miller said...

Two points of clarification: First, the initial claim that they are venomous is incorrect -- they have enough bacteria in their mouths to infect just about any bite to the point of fatality as is mentioned later in the article, but it's not the same as venomous. Second, only the little ones can climb trees, which they generally do to get away from their hungry and cannibalistic parents. For more and lighter on dragons, Douglas Adams recounts his trip to see the dragons in chapter 2 of "Last Chance to See".

Blogger Jam Master Ghislaine said...

Surely the closest living thing to a dinosaur would be their descendants the birds? Lizards aren't even archosauromorphs (the clade that includes (non-avian) dinosaurs, birds, pterosaurs and crocodiles).

Blogger Mage said...

I don't leave you enough notes, but I always enjoy stopping by. Thanks for everything you do. You keep life lively.

Anonymous Tiger said...

Anonymous: those you saw are monitor lizards. They look like Komodo dragons, but they're smaller. And yes, monitor lizards are quite common, even Singapore has them.

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Maggie, really appreciate :)

Blogger Jessika said...

Great article and the pictures are amazing. Thanks so much for sharing!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recall two great shows about these creatures. One with Dave Attenborough, and the other was a Kratt bros “Be the Creature” episode.

Even though he had a big stick, Dave was definitely getting quite nervous when a bunch of them started getting a little too close.

The Kratts filmed them eating a large pig or a boar… apparently they have jaws that can dislodge like a snake …the last thing to eat was the animal’s head and one of them swallowed it whole –The head was easily twice the size of the dragons if not more.

The Kratts said the dragons don’t like poo and the young will roll in it as a deterrent to being eaten by their parents. So, if you’re ever stranded in Komodo and it’s getting dark… Another oddity is that they have a ‘third eye’ on the top of their head. Not really an eye but light sensitive nonetheless (not unique to komodo dragons btw).

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Fascinating facts! Thank you, anonymous

Anonymous Anonymous said...

need to update the part about "bacteria in the mouth is what kills prey" in the komodos. they actually have poison glands and inject venom that causes rapid loss of blood pressure so the victim can not run away. Other than that, excellent pics

Blogger Peter Haan said...

Breaking News: Komodos ARE venomous. It has recently been determined they have a well-developed venom gland that is ducted to between their large teeth. See this link to BBC:


The long held notion that their mouths were so infested with bacteria that the condition acted as a venom is incorrect. This is the work of U of Cambridge herpetologist Clemente in a follow up study of U of Melbourne.


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