jennifer rodrigo
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Face to Face with a Komodo Dragon

Jul 22, 2022

Photo by Bryan Hanson on Unsplash

It was all David Attenborough’s fault. I still have this memorable picture of him in my mind, standing not far from this largest lizard in the world, saying to the cameraman “now if the wind changes, I’m going to be dead meat” or something to that effect. That was what took me to Komodo Island in 1990 with a fellow adventurer girlfriend.

Those were the days they still did feedings. YES - throwing  slaughtered goats onto a monstrous scramble of giant lizards and watch them, like Romans watching gladiators annihilate each other, demolish the poor things in seconds.

When we landed on Komodo National Park on that fateful day, we had all the fascinating facts:

  • Varanus Komodoensis grows to 3 metres or 10 feet and attains a weight of about 135 kg or 300 pounds.

  • They are cannibals and eat their young, so newly hatched young live in trees for several months.

  • They can apparently run about 13 miles per hour.

  • They are excellent swimmers.

  • They can climb trees.

  • They eat carrion, deer, pigs, cattle and have been known to attack humans (you are just a piece of meat to them).

  • Their bite is toxic and can kill you within hours.

And yet we still laughed when we saw a sign along the path that said “Dangerous. Komodo crossing.”

Each guide was “armed” with a supposedly strong forked stick. Each, guided about 8 tourists all walking obediently along a track, on either side dry bushland and shrubs, no large trees.

The track led to a fenced up embankment from where we were to watch the feeding. But before we could reach it, we saw them. Like hundreds of velociraptors running in a “Jurassic Park” movie. These were the smaller komodo dragons running past the long line of tourists, heading for the back, possibly heading to where the goats were. What? No fence to protect us?  Just wide open spaces? But our guide just kept walking nonchalantly so we kept walking somewhat anxiously. Until. Until the earth started to pound. And the big guys made their appearance.

One in particular was directly on our path and would not move even when the guide pushed him with his spindly forked stick. Then it happened. Unbelievable! Our guide dropped his stick and ran away! My friend was about 3 feet from the predator who kept on walking, past her, forked tongue flickering out of  a gnarled face, eyes sharp. He looked at her and then turned and looked at me. I was about 5 feet away. He headed for me (of course). Did not run, just kinda slowly clambered forwards as if to say “okay you’ll do!” At this point, I ran like everyone else into the bushland. Absolutely wrong thing to do.There were no trees to climb, no where to go. The lizard turned towards the group. My friend grabbed a stick, I hung on to my tripod. Did I take photos? Well hey….would you? But it was over within minutes, when a ranger (a more experienced guide) dashed in to shout and push the big bugger away. “Run!” he yelled. We could see the embankment, so we ran sprint champ style and got into safety.

Safety? Really? Komodo Island belonged to Komodo dragons. This was their world, not ours. They could so easily take us if they wanted to.  The feeding was hypnotically grotesque. We watched green bile smear over their faces as they swallowed the goats. But what was truly terrifying was when there was nothing left. Slowly, ever so slowly they turned and looked at us looking down from the raised embankment. One or two started to clamber up but were quickly “discouraged” by the rangers.

Thankfully today the feedings have stopped.



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