Posted by: Johan Normark | July 13, 2009

Among dragons and monitor lizards in Nusa Tenggara

I have not posted anything on my travels in a while. My blogging time has mainly been devoted to the bashing of the 2012 phenomenon. As a researcher I should perhaps not focus so much on this circus of nonsense. But I have to admit that it is fun to read completely wacky “theories” on aliens, crop circles, the pineal gland as a third eye, illuminati, Atlantis, Nibiru, Annunaki, numerology, unicorns, and dragons. This last “animal” is a suitable “bridge” to this post.

It was a rainy morning and I began to dream myself away to drier places. I came to think of my second trip to Indonesia in 2002. During this trip my wife and I travelled in an area called Nusa Tenggara, which basically consists of the islands east of Bali. We started the trip on the dry island of Sumba, then we went on a rough boat trip to Flores (more on these islands in future posts). On the west coast of Flores is the port of Labuan Bajo. Here one can take overnight boat trips to the islands of Komodo and Rinca where the Komodo dragon lives (most dragons actually live on Flores itself and some also inhabit the small islands of Gili Motang and Gili Dasami). These islands consist mainly of dry open grassland (savanna), but there is also some forested areas.

 

Rinca

Rinca

 

The Komodo dragon has several local names and one of them is buaya darat which means land crocodile. However, the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is the world’s largest monitor lizard. It is between 2 and 3 m long, and weighs roughly 70 kg (the largest known captive specimen weighed 166 kg). They are also the largest predators on the islands they inhabit and their enormous size is usually attributed to island gigantism. They mainly feed on smaller mammals, birds and other Komodo dragons. However, they also kill cattle and buffalos brought to the islands by humans. Since they have “poisonous” saliva they can kill much larger animals. If a buffalo is bitten by a dragon, it usually get away with severely infected wounds and the dragon(s) stalk the buffalo for days until it falls. The only mammal they do have trouble with is the pig. I could see small piglets walking very close to the lizards without any tragic incident. The reason is that pigs scream terribly loud and the dragon will soon be surrounded by a pack of angry pigs. However, the dragon’s strong tail can knock down pigs and deer. It uses its tongue to detect taste and smell and it can detect carcasses up to 9.5 km away.

 

Komodo dragon at the headquarter on Komodo island

Komodo dragon at the headquarter on Komodo island

 

At least five people have been killed by Komodo dragons since 1974 (the most recent one was earlier this year). The now famous “hobbit” of Flores (we passed through the area before it was discovered), must surely have encountered these animals on a daily basis since they once were far more widespread in the area. Fossils of giant monitor lizards have been found on Timor and the largest known fossil monitor lizard is Megalania, found in Australia. Unfortunately, the Komodo dragon is a vulnerable species. There are 4-5,000 specimens but only 350 breeding females.

 

Evening somewhere in-between Rinca and Komodo

Evening somewhere in-between Rinca and Komodo

 

I love reptiles and dislike stereotypical views of these animals. Please, do not say that the Komodo dragon looks prehistoric, that they are like dinosaurs. They do not look like dinosaurs at all (starlings look more like dinosaurs).

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