Komodo Island and Its Dragons

There are plenty of dragons on the island, which is part of a national park that encompasses several island and a World Heritage Site. You are not allowed on the island unless you are part of an officially sanctioned tour. Whilst walking around in the forest, we had three rangers with us; one in front, one in the middle, and one at the end of our procession of 20 or so people. While the rangers looked very young, they were quite knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, not just the dragons. And they each carried a large forked stick in case one of lizards came too close. Compared to the lizards, the sticks didn’t look that big.

The ones we saw were pretty lethargic, which is a big part of their strategy. They lie around a water hole, pretending to be a log (quite convincingly, I must say) until a wild boar, or deer, or water buffalo happen by. Then they bite it. While the crocodiles we saw yesterday were capable of crushing the bones of a water buffalo so they can swallow it, Komodo dragons just bite and then wait for the victim to die of the infections caused by the really nasty bacteria in their mouth. That can take a week. Then they track it down by the smell but so does everyone else in the neighborhood, which can extend 6 or 7 kilometers. Fortunately, eating once a week works for them. Except for three or four months of mating season, when they don’t eat at all. Too busy with other things, like fighting off other males, to have time to do the log thing by the pond.

Komodo Dragons are over-grown monitor lizards. Because they became separated from the rest of the world and lived on a large island, they were able to grow larger than other monitors. The Explorers Club of London for many years dismissed the existence of the dragons as just native folklore, until someone brought one back. Like many things in this part of the world, they don’t look real.

It’s not easy being a baby dragon. If they manage to hatch, the young hustle up a tree before an adult dragon eats them. The adults are too heavy for their legs to get them up a tree. The young stay in the trees two or three years, until they are about a meter long. Then they are more or less out of danger of being lunch for their parents.

We didn’t see any deer, water buffalo, or wild boars but we were there in the heat of the day when all sensible animals were sleeping under a bush or by a water hole. The highlight of the walk may have been when one big male regurgitated the bones from whatever he ate last week.

The real danger came when we had to get through a few dozen stalls of the native artisans. They were so aggressive we just wanted out of there and quickly learned not to even glance at whatever they wanted us to buy. I did buy a t-shirt from the cousin, or brother, or nephew of one of our rangers, for $10 AU after the cousin or brother or nephew had started at $20 US. It was too easy; he would have gone lower.

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