I have always been intrigued learning about the huge Indonesian monitor lizard called a komodo Dragon as a kid as it is the nearest thing to a dinosaur left in the world, so when the chance came to join some lucky Pacific island journalists to see the Komodo dragons in the wild, it was an opportunity not to be missed.
After a two hour flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo in Flores and a comfortable night in our hotel, our tour guide wasted no time in explain how dangerous these Komodo dragons are by saying, “ Do any of the ladies in this group have their monthly periods right now?” After the shock of such a comment subsided, he explained, “I have to ask this ladies because if you have your period it is too dangerous to go to Komodo island as the dragons can smell blood from over 5 kilometres away and will attack you.”
After further questioning he admitted that only one expatriate has been killed by Komodo dragons back in the 1970’s. He was a Swiss tourist who stupidly wandered away from the group and all that was found was his wallet, watch and hat as the dragons had consumed everything including the bones.
The Komodo dragon will eat almost anything including smaller dragons and large water buffalo, deer, pigs and humans and that they can run 15 kms an hour on powerful muscular legs and tear their prey apart with serrated shark like teeth and sharp claws.
The dragon’s basic strategy is simple: try to smash the quarry to the ground and tear it to pieces. The muscles of the Komodo’s jaws and throat allow it to swallow huge chunks of meat with astonishing speed and it can consume up to 80% of it’s body weight in food in one setting. With full grown dragons weighing in at more than 70kg that is an eating machine.
Animals that manage to escape the jaws of a Komodo after being bitten will only feel lucky briefly as dragon saliva is toxic and highly poisonous with over 50 stains of bacteria so the victim will slowly die over two or three days and be constantly followed everywhere it goes by packs of dragons who can smell death from over 5 kilometres away and can see movement 300 metres away.
Our guide told us that Komodo island used to be a convict settlement. Now that would be a penal colony you would not want to escape from with 2500-4000 dragons running around wild. Today the human population of the island is around 2000 presumably rather nervous and wary individuals.
They can swim too but as warm blooded reptiles they cannot spend too long in colder water as any food ingested would start to rot.
With this information rammed home to us we were somewhat apprehensive about what we would find.
Komodo Island is one of nearly 18,000 islands that make up Indonesia, most of which are under developed. It is a one and a half hour trip by high speed boat powered by three 200hp motors.
Indonesia is breathtakingly beautiful and under developed in this area with numerous islands including an amazing Pink beach, so named for its pink sand formed from red and pink coral. The snorkeling on Pink beach is world class with no bleaching to be seen and huge numbers of fish.
On arrival at Komodo island we struck gold almost immediately with the arrival of a large 2.5 metre female dragon on the beach. Our guide stepped to the front carrying a two pronged stick used to keep the reptile at bay. He said, “If it comes too close I will jab its nose with this as the nose is the most sensitive part. We are lucky as this female is not aggressive. Males are bigger and more aggressive.” It was big enough as it strove forward, tongue out and huge tail swinging. “Careful as it is angry as its tail is swinging.”
Our guide always kept us behind it not allowing anyone get too close in front of it for safety reasons. We found out they are solitary creatures and as soon as they are born, the mother abandons them. They have to hide up trees and cover themselves in fecal matter to avoid being attacked and eaten by other dragons.
The female dragon became our guide taking us on a one kilometer walk, posing with us and sniffing the air around when a deer was in range. It showed no real interest in us but towards the end of the tour we saw the speed a dragon could take to catch prey when it gave chase to a guide dragging coconuts along the ground. They are surprisingly fast given their size and I could think of nothing more terrifying than being surrounded by a hungry pack of these ferocious komodo dragons.
It was a truly unique experience seeing these unique reptiles in their natural habitat and afterwards at the village run gift shop I managed to get hold of a Komodo dragon tooth and piece of bone and unique T Shirts and carvings.
Komodo dragons are only found on two islands and are red flagged on the World Conservation Unit;s endangered species as only 6500 remain. They are protected but unfortunately their main source of prey, the deer is being hunted by man and numbers are dwindling unless armed rangers can stop the poaching.
The Indonesian government is ramping up tourism in the area with the opening of a modern airport and good roads in Mangarai Balat and Flores. It wants to get some of the one million tourists a month who visit Bali to see one of Indonesia’s truly unique tourist attractions.