Komodo Dragon Kaper: Here be Dragons

Day 9

Saturday May 21st – Dragon Galleries

Today we visited Rinca Island and then Komodo Island before anchoring for the night in a sheltered bay.

Rinca - 1

Ora

The Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis), are part of the monitor lizard family and known to the locals as ora. They were first revealed in 1912 to the scientific world by Lieutenant van Steyn van Henbroek, the Civil Administrator in Reo, Flores Island. He collected evidence of their existence when he went in search of a rumoured buaya darat “land crocodile”. The first scientific expedition to the Komodo Islands in 1926 which captured live dragons, were the inspiration for the 1933 movie, “King Kong”. Since then conservation goals have expanded to protecting this unique area’s entire biodiversity, both marine and terrestrial.

RincaDay1 - 6

The Komodo dragon has a tail as long as its body, as well as about 60 frequently replaced, serrated teeth that can measure up to 2.5 cm in length. Its saliva is frequently blood-tinged, because its teeth are almost completely covered by gingival tissue that is naturally lacerated during feeding. [It is now proven that the idea that the dragon’s saliva contains septic bacteria is false]. It also has a long, yellow, deeply forked tongue. Komodo dragon skin is reinforced by armoured scales, which contain tiny bones called osteoderms that function as a sort of natural chain-mail…The Komodo dragon can see objects as far away as 300 m, but because its retinas only contain cones, it is thought to have poor night vision. It can distinguish colours, but has poor visual discrimination of stationary objects…The Komodo dragon uses its tongue to detect, taste, and smell stimuli, as with many other reptiles, with the vomeronasal sense using the Jacobson’s organ, rather than using the nostrils. With the help of a favourable wind and its habit of swinging its head from side to side as it walks, a Komodo dragon may be able to detect carrion from 4–9.5 km away. It only has a few taste buds in the back of its throat. Its scales, some of which are reinforced with bone, have sensory plaques connected to nerves to facilitate its sense of touch. The scales around the ears, lips, chin, and soles of the feet may have three or more sensory plaques… Komodo dragons take approximately 8 to 9 years to mature, and may live for up to 30 years – wiki

Komodo monitors are giant carnivorous lizards that can outrun humans, tackle deer and down water buffalo. They tear apart larger prey but swallow smaller prey, inc younger dragons, whole. A small tube under the tongue that connects to the lungs allows them to breathe while swallowing. Their unusually large size has been attributed to island gigantism, since no other carnivores exist here. Another popular theory say’s they are relic remnants of megafauna that once roamed across Indonesia and Australia. They are the world’s largest living lizards, growing up to 3 metres long and can weigh more than 70kg, capable of eating half their own weight in a single meal. They frequently ambush live prey and their intent is to kill rather than injure.

Dragons in Action

Komodo Dragon Attacks

The Komodo dragon’s strong jaws can snap a man’s leg in two. Yet, attacks are rare. Here follows the accounts of recent Komodo attacks.
– In 2007, a dragon killed an 8-year-old boy on Komodo Island, marking the first fatal attack on a human in 33 years
– In 2008, a group of SCUBA divers drifted from their boat, after 10 hours in strong currents, they washed up on Rinca Island. They fought off dragon attacks for two days before being rescued.
– In 2009, 31-year-old Muhamad Anwar set out to gather sugar apples from an Komodo Island orchard. He fell. Two Komodo dragons were waiting below, and sprang on Anwar. He suffered massive blood loss and later died in a clinic.
– In 2009, Maen, a guide was attacked. The cleaning crew had accidentally left the office door open the night before and a dragon ambushed Maen. He survived after 55 stitches and 6 months of recovery.
– In May 2017, Lon Lee Alle, a 50-year-old Singaporean tourist, was attacked on Komodo Island. He survived with an injured leg.

Komodo Dragon Population

There is a stable population of Komodo dragons on the islands of Komodo, Gila Motang, Rinca, and Flores. In the mid seventies the dragon population died out on Padar Island, due to poaching of their prey. This poaching, lack of egg-laying females, human encroachment, and natural disasters have threatened the species’ population. Now there are only between 2,500 – 5,000 Komodo dragons left. Females can amazingly produce eggs without a male, under specific circumstances, this is called parthenogenesis but can only produces male offspring. They are considered a vulnerable species.

There are also many Komodo dragons in captivity around the world. We are fortunate to have one in our local Perth Zoo. He is a young male, called Raja, who came to the zoo in 2013 and lives in the Asian Rainforest exhibit. Raja is in part, the inspiration which made our Felix set off on this wild adventure and be here today.

We were thrilled and privileged to have seen these amazing creatures today, in their natural arid habitat and the experience surpassed all our expectations. They were indeed larger and scarier then we imagined and very aware of their surroundings. I noticed they reacted very differently to the boys which they notably identified as more vulnerable prey and I was glad to have our kindly guides watching over us at all times. I hope these magnificent creatures flourish, so that others can admire them as we did today.

Ora

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