No trip to the Indonesian island of Komodo would be complete without visiting the famous dragons but be warned, when a dragon gets a whiff of its first meal in 3 months you’d better get out of the way!
Apparently, the Komodo dragon only eats once every three months, so there was much excitement when our boat moored at Rinca Island in the Komodo Nationa Park, home to around 1,500 of these monitor lizards, as they were in the middle of a long-awaited meal – a sight that was very rare to see. In fact, we’d already been warned that there was no guarantee of even seeing a dragon, let alone watching them feed, so I was a little unprepared for what I was about to experience.
First, a word about these dragons. Komodo dragons are the largest and most lethal lizards on earth. Adults regularly live up to 50 years; some weighing in at 300 pounds, they can grow up to 10 feet long, are venomous, and have caused several human fatalities. Komodos can chase down prey – perhaps a deer or even a water buffalo – at 15 miles per hour. Only in 2009 did researchers discover that the dragons are venomous; it was previously thought that the high level of bacteria in the mouth was the primary cause of deaths after a bite – but once bitten the prey can take days to eventually die and the dragons wait patiently for that to happen.
Needless to say, you can only visit the island with a guide, however, I would have felt slightly more comfortable if he had been armed with more than just a wooden stick! With no time to dwell on that thought, we hurried to the area where a very large male was enjoying the spoils of his last hunt.
I wasn’t really prepared for the size of the beast in front of me nor the ease at which he was demolishing his prey. With one crunch of bone, the head was severed and swallowed whole. Clearly, he’d been waiting a long time for this meal and nothing was going to interrupt him. In fact, a Komodo dragon can eat up to 80% of its body weight in one sitting!
Their sense of smell is thier primary food detector and they can smell carrion, or rotting flesh, up to 2.5 miles away and so, of course, it wasn’t long before this large male was joined by many other smaller dragons, all making a beeline for their dinner. This was actually the freakiest part of all – these dragons were appearing from every direction and no sooner had we moved out of the way of one, we were slap back in the path of another.
We watched the eating frenzy for a little longer before setting off to walk around the island. It was good to get out of the searing heat and into the cooler shade of the trees. I felt more comfortable being away from the dragons – I know that we had come to the island expressly see them but I have to admit that I’d found it all a bit more unnerving than anticipated. Still, the most up close and personal encounter lay just ahead of us in the shape of another huge male making its way towards the food and NOTHING was going to get in its way! As we rounded a bend in the path we came face to face with the ugly creature and we knew that we had to move quickly out of the way when even our guide went into panic mode. We hurled ourselves off the path and up the banking and ran as quickly as we could with just a quick look back to make sure we weren’t being followed.
I’m not sure if I imagined this bit, but I swear the dragon looked at us and for a split second weighed up the option of either chasing one of us or continuing towards a ready meal. Thank goodness, after faltering for a moment, it continued full steam ahead in the direction of the food.
We finished our walk without further incident and made our way back to the boat. I’m really glad I made the journey to see the Komodo dragons. I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it back to the region so it probably was a once in a lifetime experience. As the sun set over the islands and the boat headed back to our resort I found myself thinking how lucky I’d been to have had such a close encounter with these impressive creatures. We could have spent the whole visit trying to find one or two and could have left the island not seeing any at all and feeling disappointed. Here I was having had the whole experience and yet, if I’m honest, I probably would have preferred it to be a bit less interactive – but then that’s just me – never happy!
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