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Komodo Island
Submitted by Lincoln Yates Dec 2012

Indonesia is made up of around thirteen thousand islands. Some very large like Sumatra and others tiny specs, but together it makes for a bustling,exciting and naturally beautiful place to visit. I recently saw an article in one of the national newspapers which made me think how small the world is becoming and how times have changed over the last decade or so.

The article was very informative and made it sound easy to visit these creatures in the wild. However, the picture of a woman holding the tail of one of these creatures shocked me. Either these dragons are being fed regularly or the danger these animals pose has been forgotten or ignored. These creatures can grow to a length of three metres and weigh up to three hundred fifty pounds.Komodo dragon

In a trip in the late eighties, travelling around Indonesia, I had the good fortune to travel the Nusa Tenggara string of islands which runs easterly from Bali to Timor. The main objective was to visit Komodo Island, the home of the legendary Komodo dragons. Tales of these huge beasts would send a chill down your spine. One bite from the ripping jaws of the monster would be enough to kill you, but if it did not, the poison contained in the saliva (which teems with over 50 strains of bacteria), would grant you a long, slow and painful death; 24 to 36 hours later you would be dead from blood poisoning. Komodos would slowly follow an animal that had been bitten awaiting the bitter end; a dragon can eat up to 75 percent of its own body weight in a single feed.

Ferry to Sumbawa

After a long arduous journey consisting of several bus and ferry journeys across Lombok and Sumbawa we arrived on Flores to be told the ferry was not working and we would have to find our own boat and negotiate a price to take us across to Komodo Island. This was not too hard as there were many locals eager to take us. The unexpected and shocking part was being told we would have to buy, and take with us, a live goat for bait! We did not quite understand what was going to happen to the goat: was he to be set up to lure these animals out of the bush, or was he to be killed and fed to these creatures? Whichever way you looked at it the outlook for the goat was a concern.

Komodo dragonEventually, after waiting in the losmen for several days to get enough people together to afford the cost, we set sail. There were ten of us, if you counted the goat, and six hours later we arrived in Komodo National Park. The parks accommodation had basic wooden huts on stilts. According to the park guides they were built like this to keep visitors safe: after dark komodo would come under the huts scavenging for food. We were told under no circumstance were we to venture out at night. The island did not have electricity so we were given oil filled lanterns. If you have ever witnessed the noise a komodo makes it is very eerie, almost like a big long deep sigh and when the only light you have is from a lantern and this strange noise is coming from somewhere below you, it sends a shiver down your spine.

Komodo dragonWhen most of the group went to bed, we could not resist tiptoeing around and bellowing out a few gut wrenching sighs under the bottom of the doors, to add to the excitement of the coming day.

The next day we met at the park office where our guides were waiting with the goat on a tether. Each guide had a big long pole with a V on the end. I have never been sure what theses poles would do against something as big as a Komodo, but anyway, we set off into the bush. The landscape was parched and dusty and after about an hour we reached a dry river bed with one quite steep side where we took up position. On the edge of the banking we noticed a sort of contraption made out of wood, somewhat like a witches ducking stool: our poor little goat's fate was now only too clear! It would be slaughtered and strung up by its leg and then swung over the river bed and lowered down to attract the dragons. Apparently the smell of fresh blood or a carcass would attract them from miles around.

The guides asked us if we wanted to watch them kill the goat by knife. Most of the group were not interested, therefore the goat was taken a hundred yards or so and killed then brought back, strung up by one leg and lowered down until it was about three or so feet off the ground. For a while nothing happened and then a small komodo appeared. It did not seem in any hurry to get to the fresh kill, it just ambled along heading for the goat. A couple of minutes later another one appeared. This time a lot bigger, then another and another. After about 30 minutes there were five dragons, three were exceptionally large, but none had made an attempt on the goat. Finally one grabbed the head of the goat; the whole head was engulfed by the huge jaws. The dragon started to pull, twist and turn, like a crocodile trying to rip meat. This action seemed to evoke a small reaction from the rest, but I thought to myself how very slow and docile these creatures seemed to be even when feeding. How wrong could I have been!

KomodoThree of the dragons began pulling on the underbelly of the goat. All of a sudden the goat burst open - WOW! How a situation can change. I was now witnessing a full blown attack; boy was I glad there was a steep bank between them and me. The dragons went absolutely crazy, like a pack of dogs, tearing, ripping and gnawing. It was as if they had been transformed into completely different animals, with lightning speed and agility! Except for the one that grabbed the head. He was still pulling and twisting and had never let go through all the carnage. Eventually the head came off, and he slowly walked off into the bush.

These were not the same docile creatures I had seen 30 minutes earlier. I now knew the damage that these animals could cause and how dangerous they were. To begin with we all thought that the guides were spinning us a yarn about the dangers, but they were not exaggerating. I now realised what the guides were talking about by "fast and very dangerous!"

Komodo Island