Say hello to the Komodo Dragons - a species near extinction


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January 21st 2017
Published: January 28th 2017
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Do dragons really exist? Or are they myth? As far as the Google tells me, they don't. But the Komodo dragons do exist, - well, hardly; they are near extinction. These deadly beasts are the largest living lizards those roam around freely in a handful of islands in Indonesia. Komodo and Rinca in Java Sea are two of those islands. I remember seeing this deadly lizard in the Bond movie, Skyfall. And I wanted to see them in their natural habitat before they totally disappear. What I know is Komodo is not too far from Bali. Probably a boat ride could be arranged from Bali, but it might take a day or so. I am running on a tight schedule. So, I decided to first fly to Labuan Bajo in the Flores Island. And then take a 4 hour boat ride to reach the Komodo Island.



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I’m used to taking early morning flights. Even for my work, sometimes I have to run to airport in some ungodly hours. So it’s not much of an issue. My taxi was already there when I reached the front desk for check out. Sun hasn’t come up yet and it was dark. The taxi headed out through the desolate roads of Bali to the Denpasar Airport. The turbo aircraft of Garuda Airlines took off ten minutes before schedule. Good, I reported well in advance. It’s a short flight of just over an hour to Labuan Bajo. Sky was clear and the sun was up when we landed in Labuan Bajo. I didn’t realize that a welcome dance by the locals was waiting for us. While waiting for the luggage, I enjoyed the performance. Later I learned that the performance was actually meant for some government officials who were flying with us to Labuan Bajo. Oh, whatever! It was a bonus alright.

My tour guide Gonzales was waiting outside the terminal. We collected some snorkeling gear and boarded the boat. I was told that we will have some time to get wet. Cool! Literally! It was hotter here than Bali. The boat was large…I have reserved the boat for two days. Besides Gonzales, I have three more crew members including a cook. And the four hours boat ride was pleasantly supplemented by freshly cooked delicious food! Thanks to Desi for organizing this! Hills jutted out from the sea here and there. And I could see the clear sandy beaches where the hills meet the sea. The hills are pretty barren, not like Bali where greenery is everywhere. I asked Gonzalez if people live in these islands. “Not really…except in very few fishing villages,” he replied.

The sea was not choppy, so the ride was smooth. I checked my phone. I was still getting wi-fi signal; so internet was working. This was a good time to check and respond to some of the messages. The plan went fine with the tasty meal prepared by our cook. We arrived near the Komodo island right after the noon time. We picked a guide from the Ranger's office. Oh, yes, it’s needed. The trails often run through dense bushes and trees; often it is not possible to see what’s lurking behind those bushes. The beasts can easily camouflage within the dirt and bushes and it’s easy to fall prey in front of one of the hungry beast. They are totally carnivores and they won’t leave anything untouched except the head. They pretty much feed themselves on pigs, deer, water buffalos; attack on the human are rare, but it happened before. The dragons go out to hunt in the day time; so it’s quite possible we may encounter one. And I was sure; they won’t be in a mood to say ‘Hello’ to me when they are hungry. Suddenly we stopped! The guide’s long stick suddenly blocked my step. “Stop, right there”, he said in a hush. Walla! There it was! A 200 plus lbs beast was just staring at us from a distance. Wow! This is the beast that roamed this planet millions of years ago and now towards its extinction. I noticed its flat head and powerful front legs. Its forked tongue was coming out every few seconds with a lightning speed. They sample the air with their forked tongues. And then they touch their tongues to the roof of their mouth. That’s where they sense where the prey is. I figured it is close to 10 ft in length and the tail was thick. It was swaying its head in right and left looking for food and it started moving towards us thumping its heavy feet. I was standing with my guide at a ten o’clock position and Gonzales was right on the opposite direction. The guide warned me, “move back, and don’t go too close”. The dragons can make a speedy run at 20 kph for a short distance and can outrun a prey. Then they spring up on their heavy feet to knock down the prey and pretty much shred them into pieces with their shark-like sharp teeth. If a prey can get away from their clutch, they don’t survive long. The saliva of Komodo dragons contain around 50 strains of toxic substances with deadly bacteria that they can control. The prey dies of blood poisoning in a short time. It sprays venom to the legs of water buffalo to make them paralyzed and then kill them. Rule No. 1: Don’t go in front of a dragon too close. They can make a speedy catch. Walk a large semi-circle and go behind the beast. Rule No. 2: If you have an open wound or if you are a woman and menstruating, stay away from them as far as you can. They have an incredible strong sense of smell and once they smell blood, they will hunt you down or any prey for that matter. I came too close to its tail with my camera ready. Click, Click! The guide dragged me back, “it can snap in a second and you don’t stand a chance,” he told me. The dragon finally came to an open area and then walked in the bushes looking for food. We met a few of them during the hike.



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Rinca Island is a two hour boat ride from here. It was almost five o’clock and there was not enough time to make it. The boat anchored near some islands in Java Sea and we called it a day. A crimson red Sun was going down the horizon over Java Sea. Soon the darkness fell all around us. I had a long day and it was time to chill out after the dinner.

I woke up in my usual time at 4:30 am. One crew was already up, but Gonzalez was deep asleep. I slowly climbed up the deck. Thousands of stars are spread like diamonds in the sky….the bright Orion constellation, Sirius, Vega. Perhaps this the time when one wants to be alone, deeply absorbed within the inner self. Slowly the sky transformed to a collage of hundreds of beautiful color that the Nature painted with its love and affection. The orange-crimson sun came up like a ball from the horizon of the Java Sea. And I was grateful that I lived to see this moment.

It was a two hour boat ride to the Rinca Island and the island appeared to be more barren than the Komodo. However, once we went on the trail up the hills, bush and shrubs became dense. Our first halt on the trail occurred not due to a dragon, but by the aggressive stance of a water buffalo. “Relax and wait”, the guide whispered to us. I believe it was the natural instinct of the poor animal that learned the truth of life here; survival of the fittest.

We saw some dragon caves near the trail, but no signs of dragons. And then my guide slowed down and I almost missed it. The beast was resting in a bush, just 6 feet from us totally camouflaged by the shrubs and bushes. Had my guide was not with me, probably I wouldn’t be writing this blog to you.

However, I must say I had a better luck with encountering a number of them in the Komodo Island rather than in Rinca.

It was noon time and my flight was at 4:00 pm. That gave me enough time to do some snorkeling in the crystal clear water (Thanks again to MJ!). It’s a respite from the hot and sticky afternoon sun and I felt good before heading out to the airport, a couple of hours boat ride to Labuan Bajo.

Probably I won’t be visiting the lizards again in my future trip to Bali. However, I wanted to see them once, freely roaming around the island before they become extinct from the face of the earth. Just like many other species in our planet who faced the same fate. A video clip for you. Hope you enjoy!




Additional photos below
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28th January 2017

Komodo Dragons
A great read and blog Tab. Sounds like there was no chance for that photo of you patting the dragon...pity that...the potential for a bit of red was high! Fantastic you achieved your quest. Sounds like your efforts to see Komodo dragons were well worth it. I've only seen a smaller species on Anak Krakatoa but the big ones are clearly the ones to aspire. Great stuff.
28th January 2017

Komodo Dragons
Hi Dave, thank you for your comment. You are right, tuly I was itching to touch it's tail, but the guide restrained me. In retrospect, perhaps it was not wise to do so. I sure was in no mood to spend the rest of my time in an Indonesia hospital fighting for life! I didn't realize that there are some in Ana Krakatoa! But yes, probably more numbers are in Komodo. And I truly enjoyed my effort...it's so close from Bali that I didn't want to miss the opportunity!
18th February 2017

Near Extinction
Fact, fiction, myth and more....chasing the Skyfall dragons. Marvelous. Always good to have a plan. I was in Bonaire once when a tourists decide to play with and try to pet a large iguana. It took a good bite out of his finger. This was the first day of his trip and I'm sure part of it was spent in the hospital. Glad the guide restrained you. A wonderful adventure. Great stuff.
18th February 2017

Near Extinction
Wow! The iguana accident happened in front of your eyes! And you are so right....in retrospect, it was good that the guide restrained me. After all, it's not wise to trust the wild animals whose own survival depend on their killer instinct. Thank you for your comment, MJ. I'm glad that you enjoyed it!
4th May 2017

Questionnaire Participation: Travel Motivation in Visiting Komodo National Park (Padar island, Komodo island, or Rinca island).
Good morning/afternoon/evening, Mr./Mrs./Ms. My name is Gabriela, from Petra Christian University Surabaya, Indonesia. Right now, I am currently working on my final project/thesis of: Travel Motivation in Visiting Komodo National Park (Padar island, Komodo island, or Rinca island). If you don't mind, would you please fill in this questionnaire? (Here's the link to it: https://goo.gl/forms/bq3Zlv65YjhWaZjE3) Thank you very, very much, and God bless you. 😊😊 Regards, Gabriela A
4th May 2017

Questionnaire
Hi Gabriela, It's done! Thanks!

Tot: 0.198s; Tpl: 0.023s; cc: 42; qc: 148; dbt: 0.0481s; 1; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.8mb