Komodo Dragons have a fearsome reputation. Stories of their ferocity and venomous bite are common. Komodo Dragons look extremely formidable, I can attest to that! My recent trip to Komodo National Park gave me a close up look at the largest of lizards, now vulnerable to extinction.
I recently visited Komodo on a dive liveaboard, The Arenui. One of our scheduled stops, and a very popular one, was stopping on Rinca Island, one of the few places left on earth where Komodo Dragons live. I decided to check them out, and I left with all of the other divers to do a walk through Loh Buaya on Rinca Island, one of the few places left where humans can see Komodo Dragons.
Like the African Massai warriors, the guides who are protecting you from the dragons carry only sticks. I felt about the same way when I saw the sticks as I felt in Africa. What is a stick going to do against a lion or a dragon who weighs 200 pounds? I guess they must do something since no other weapon is present. At least, you hope they do.
I don’t know what I expected, really, but the “viewing area” was accessed by concrete walks that were elevated from the ground by maybe a foot. As lions know that the vehicles on the savannah are not food, so do the dragons know that humans on these walkways are not food. We were told that Komodo dragons only have to eat every 3 months or so. Most of their time is spent basking in the sun, they are especially sluggish in the morning hours.
A couple of them raised up to take a look, but they weren’t extremely close to us so we weren’t concerned, just fascinated by the animals.
Now, even though we took the “short trek”, there was “a bit of a hill” to climb in 100% humidity in unbelievable heat. A hill? It was more like a mountain. I don’t climb very well since I have 4 Titanium rods and 8 titanium pedicle screws in my lower spine, and I can tell you, I had a tough time. Steep? Oh yes, it was f^&^&*g steep all right! I did my best to put one foot in front of the other and breathe. The top of the mountain had incredible views. The bad news was, the way down was even steeper. And rockier. Remember, we still have guides because there are no fences or enclosures, a dragon could be anywhere.
I was dehydrated, shaky, and trying desperately not to fall on the way down. Ha! Anyone who knows me knows that a fall would be absolutely typical of me, and yes, of course I took a tumble. Needless to say, I was a long way behind the others, but I did have my own guide with a stick. I took off my shoes so I could feel the ground (and the damned rocks) on my feet and be less likely to fall again. So, one foot in front of the other.
Finally we were down, and still significantly behind the others. We arrived on the concrete walkway, and began approaching the others who were a fairly long way off. The dragons in the area were of the large variety, but they were lying down in the dust and were immobile.
It may have been because there were only a couple of us instead of a large group, but one of the large dragons raised his head and looked our way. Then he pushed up, then up on all fours and moving. Toward us. His (I have no idea if it was male, but it seemed like a male) tongue started flicking out. Dragons have white and pink forked tongues and they are long. Very long.
I took a few photos, then I began to get a little nervous. So, since my legs were still shaky, I got behind the guide, you know, the guy with the stick. The dragon kept coming on, and I thought, great, this huge reptile has realized who the weak link is, and the weak link was also separated from the group. The guide took my camera and began to photograph the dragon and his long flicking tongue. We stood our ground, I mean, who wants to encourage a dragon to run after you? Not me!
After a few minutes the dragon settled down and decided to go back to his dusty nap. We moved down the walkway and joined the others at a souvenir stop. I felt like I had enough souvenirs with scraped legs and photos of a dragon coming toward me, so I bought a huge bottle of water and poured it over my head. I took a little sip, then poured more over my head. I was absolutely exhausted, and we still had to walk back through the first section of the walk…by more dragons. Again, one foot before the other. Below are the photos from my exciting little tete-a-tete with a Komodo dragon. As to why it didn’t eat me? Well, they tend not to unless you go off the pathway. Apparently a photographer went sneaking off a few years ago to photograph dragons away from people…he did not return. As long as the group stays together with the guides, one should be safe. I have to admit, I found the Komodo dragons to be the most intimidating animal I’ve ever been close to. Well, maybe the Great White Shark was more intimidating since it actually whacked me on the head and chewed on my air hose. These Komodo dragons though, they have that reptilian way of staring you down, I felt like I was in the presence of 65 million year old dinosaurs. The Komodo dragon has been around for 4 million years, and each one of them looks that old! I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t get bit by one of these guys….they bite their prey and leave it to die a most horrible death by infection from their venom. They also have in their venom, an anti-coagulant. A very miserable way to go, I should think. I hope to return to Komodo, but I must say I think I’ve had close enough contact with the dragons. Next time, I will stay on the boat!