Every kid has grown up being fascinated by dinosaurs. Of course Mr. Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park’ 1,2,3… helped add a great deal to the imagination as well. I for one was not content on reading the book just once or twice but three full times cover to cover. Among all the living species on earth, Komodo dragons are – at least in my laic opinion – the ones closest to the T-Rex and his mates. So you can imagine that when we had a chance to be in Indonesia, visiting the Komodo National Park and seeing the largest living species of lizards was the sort of temptation I couldn’t resist!
The dragons (to be exact monitor lizards of Komodo) are found only in the islands around Flores in Indonesia which form a part of the Komodo National Park. They dominate the local ecosystem because of their size and the fact that they’re the only carnivorous animals on these islands.
To get these islands you have to hire a boat for a day or from Labuanbajo in Flores or go on a few-days-long package tour from Bali. We opted for a 1 day trip to Rinca island (from the nearby Labuanbajo) supposedly the more ‘wild’ option, as opposed to the Komodo island where the dragons are fed daily with the large portions of raw meat in large enclosures to the entertainment of the groups of visiting tourists.
As it turned out, the dragons in Rinca were not all seen in the wild as we were initially informed. Even though there was no feeding sessions, we saw to our surprise – a few of the dragons just idling around the houses in the main camp that served as a ticket office as well as home for some of the National Park workers.
At first when we spotted them, the dragons were so still we were almost sure they were just statues but as we approached them it became clear that they were alive! The two guards that lead our group brought us as close as 5 meters from the wild animals… and there was no fence or any other security measures apart from the forked wooden sticks that the guards were carrying (to disarm the lizard’s head without hurting it).
As we later found out dragons often linger around that area because of the smell of food from the kitchen in one of the houses. It was quite stunning not only because we were so close to them but also because there were people sitting on the porches of the ‘kitchen house’ with the dragons just beneath them. Looking at their bored expressions it seemed like the huge lizards were at best just harmless geckos.
The park guides explained that though the dragons seem to be hardly moving, we can’t be misled by it. The deceptively slow moving dragons are quite ferocious and can run up to 20 km per hour. Looking at them just lazing around, they could’ve easily fooled me!
We soon left the camp area for an hour long trek into the island. Though we were walking through hills of grass with some beautiful scenery around, I was a bit disappointed as I wasn’t too sure we’d be seeing any more of the dragons. During our walk we spotted a wild buffalo and wild pig, which of course when you come from India isn’t even something you’d bat an eyelid at, but the other tourists in our group much to my amusement seem to get rather excited with it.
Fortunately the effort into the trek wasn’t wasted at all, as towards the end while walking through some thick woods one of the guides prompted us to be silent. It turned out that we had approached a dragon’s nest- a muddy place where the female lay and bury their eggs and leave them. We saw a single dragon digging into this nest looking for the eggs – to eat them. Turns out that the Komodo dragons fascinating as they are, are far from ideal parents as they not only abandon their eggs but also eat the ones of others. This dragon didn’t seem quite so successful in its search but it was a great experience to see it in the wild!
After the trek we continued to talk with our guards about the dragons and their habits. They told us about the popular story about a German tourist who went sun bathing near the shore of the island and they only found his camera left. Here are some interesting facts we learned about the ferocious dragons: