First Time Seeing Komodo Dragons – Komodo Island – Indonesia
After a surprisingly relaxing night (particularly considering the previous evening’s ordeal) in the open air just offshore of Komodo Island, we were awoken early by the sun casting a little light over the horizon.
We were also awoken by Iris, our Dutch friend from the night before, keen to show us something at the back of the boat. We followed her and looked out over the edge. With the only other light coming from a boat on the opposite side, and the water was an inky blue. Iris picked up a pot of water (from a bucket next to the toilet), and came out and dropped it into the water.
The stream of water hit the surface of the lake and erupted into light. Not bright light, but a dull green phosphorescence glowed from the disturbance. Iris had found some luminescent plankton. This had always been something that I’d wanted to see, even at 5 in the morning. We watched a couple more pots worth of the plankton before I headed back to bed. I expected another long day ahead of us.
We slept for a couple of hours before we felt the boat stir to life beneath us. We were finally heading to Komodo to see the dragons!
20 minutes later we were getting off the boat onto the longest jetty I have ever seen, jutting out a good couple of hundred metres into the bay, it felt like it could support dozens of boats. However, with it being 7am, we were the first boat there. Walking along the platform, I hummed the theme tune to Jurassic Park in my head, whilst contemplating the death rate of the film.
Komodo Island represents the one place in the world where a reptile sits right at the top of the food chain. The large monitor lizards that the island lends its name to is an impressive creature by any measure. The Komodo dragon can live beyond 60 years, and in this time can grow up to 3 and a half metres. Their mouths cultivate copious amounts of bacteria, whilst also containing venom. They use a combination of these to kill their prey, ambushing them, administering a bite, then following their victim (usually deer or water buffalo) for up to a week before they succumb to sepsis. They can smell blood from several kilometres away, and run at over 20 miles per hour. They have even been observed chasing animals into the sea and waiting for them to exhaust themselves, biting them when they return, unable to escape. As a child I vividly remember seeing Steve Irwin climbing a tree to escape a pursuing Komodo dragon. I can’t say I blame him.
For some reason we wanted to meet these creatures in person, and leaving the boat, we were immediately on the lookout. We had been told there was no guarantee of seeing the dragons on the island, so we were keen to see them early.
It turns out that we didn’t have to wait long, the morning is when the Komodo dragon is most active and there was a 2m long juvenile walking along right next to the park entrance.
We walked to the rangers lodge and paid our fee. We’d been told that Sundays were more expensive, which is why we were going to Komodo Island on a Monday. We were also told that the entrance fee was 200,000IDR each. This wasn’t true, as the actual cost of entry was 260,000IDR (about £15) per person. Across our group of 9 this bought us 2 guides armed with sticks – one for the front and one for the back. The sticks were probably not large enough.
We set along the path, keeping our eyes peeled for a dragon. After a few minutes walking, we came across a deer, standing only a couple of metres from the path. In the U.K. I would have expected the deer to have fled a long time before any of our loud group stomped our way into the vicinity, yet this one stood and watched us as we walked by. It clearly knew that we weren’t its biggest concern.
A little further along we came to a clearing containing a recently vacated nest. The nest was made of dirt that had been kicked up to a height of about 70cm, with a diameter of about 2 metres. It was a surprisingly large construction – even for a creature the size of a Komodo dragon. Standing next to this, we were given a brief overview of the life of a Komodo dragon, from birth – where it’s mother may eat it, forcing baby dragons to climb into trees or face death, to middle age – where the dragons come down from the trees to prey on larger animals, to death at a ripe (and large) old age.
We continued along the trail, crossing over a dry riverbed – we were a month or so into the dry season – before we started a short climb to a point overlooking the landing jetty. Before us stood an amazing view of the sea, with deep blues folding into the lighter shallows. At the opposite end of the bay, and all the land curving between that point and ours, was made up of browns and ochres. The guide told us that the dry season had hit hard, and that during the rainy season, the browns before us would have been green.
Our next stop was the restaurant. This was not actually to get any food, but was – somewhat disappointingly – because it was the best place to see the Komodo dragons. The acute sense of smell that the dragons possess means that any within a wide range of the restaurant will detect the scent of food being prepared, and head over towards the restaurant, even though they aren’t given anything.
It was – as promised – in this area that we saw 4 Komodo dragons. The largest of them was about 3.2 metres, which was very lethargic, barely moving as our group took turns to pose behind it. The smaller, more active dragon clocked in at about 2 metres from head to tip of tail, and seemed much more inclined to explore the outside of the restaurant, looking for points of ingress.
The other two were closer in both size and temperament to the largest, sitting and looking like very exotic pieces of furniture. We headed back towards the boat, seeing no more Komodo dragons along the way. Whilst we were fortunate to see the dragons, in our brief hour-long trip, we didn’t see any more than a few metres from human settlements.
By the time we boarded the boat, a number of boats had moored up alongside ours. Perhaps their luck would be better on Komodo Island, and ours would improve in Rinca.