Komodo Dragon – Here Be Dragons
In medieval times, as European mariners began the age of exploration a Latin phrase was used to refer to unexplored areas. The ominous phrase “Here be Dragons” became synonymous with unknown monsters. Ironically, as more of the world was explored no dragons were found…except for one small area of the world. Do you know where this might be? Of course it’s the island of Komodo in Indonesia.
The Komodo National Park
Located 250 miles to the east of Bali, the island of Komodo is the centerpiece of the Komodo National Park. With 3 main islands and 26 smaller ones, the park is located on the western end of Flores. It’s here and here alone, that the world famous Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is found. These endemic animals are the largest lizards in the world. They grow to almost 10 feet in length (3 meters). They are only found on Komodo, Rinca, Gili Motang, Nusa Kode, and certain areas of Flores.
Although they have been known to the local people for centuries, they were first encountered by western scientists in 1910. The Dutch Colonial government sent a team led by Lieutenant van Steyn van Hensbroek to Komodo Island to research rumors of a “land crocodile” native to the area. By 1912 the dragon was taxonomically described as a new species and word spread around the world of this new curiosity. Unfortunately, as happens with many large predators, the first “travelers” to arrive in search of the dragon were big game hunters. Realizing the vulnerability of the species, the dragons received a certain amount of protection in the 1930s.
National Protection of the Komodo Dragon
By 1980 the Indonesian government created the Komodo National Park in order to add further protection to this vulnerable species. Thus was born an institution in Indonesia that we all enjoy today. In the last 40 years, the park has grown from being a terrestrial park to encompassing the marine environment as well.
With approximately 3000 dragons in the wild, the dragons are well protected but still considered a threatened species due to a number of factors. Threats to the dragons include poaching of the animals and poaching of their prey, fire, loss of habitat, and human activity. There are more than 1000 dragons on both Komodo and Rinca islands with a smaller number on the small islands of Nusa Kode and Gili Motang. There is also a remnant population on the Flores mainland, including a population along the north coast that is also under protection.
What Do Dragons Eat?
These voracious carnivores eat a diet of deer, water buffalo, wild pig, and even monkeys. Juvenile dragons prey upon eggs, birds, and other smaller animals living in trees. Juvenile dragons are in danger from larger adults who will attack them. Baby dragons spend their first few years of existence in trees as shelter. Dragons typically live around 30 years and the male dragons are larger than the females. The females lay eggs and will guard this clutch for 8 months. When the young are born they are even at threat from their mother who turns from guardian to predator!
How Do We Encounter Dragons?
The best place to encounter the dragons are at one of the Ranger Stations situated in the park. The two main stations at Rinca and Komodo offer fantastic walks with the Rangers where we not only encounter dragons but often buffalo, deer, pigs, and monkeys. We also occasionally spot these amazing animals along the beach close to several of our regular anchorages.
Although everyone has seen photos of the Komodo Dragon, there really is no substitution to seeing them in real life. The look in their eyes gives you a primordial feeling of not being at the top of the food chain. Join us on any of our Komodo cruises to encounter these wonderful animals in person.