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Monday, 7 September 2009

Komodo Dragons :

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).

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"

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:

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.

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

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:

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.

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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