- Pets and Animals
Komodo Dragons of Indonesia
There Be Dragons
Komodo National Park is a fascinating place, with barren, desolate features and the rare, slow lumbering giant lizards that most people go there to see. These endangered animals live on a small group of islands between Sumbawa and Flores in the Indonesian archipelago. The two biggest islands in the National Park are Komodo and Rinca. The nearest island on the regular tourist route is Bali and the nearest airport is on Flores. The Komodo Dragons live on Flores too, but no one bothers to tell you that, because there is a huge industry associated with chartering boats for trips out to the National Park. There was also, apparently, no way of getting to see them on Flores, when I was there anyway, most of the research into this endangered species having been done on the islands, not on the mainland.
The Komodo Dragons, which are a kind of monitor lizard, grow up to 10 feet long and can move surprisingly fast, easily out running a human. They wander freely around the islands and can even swim between them, but so far only one tourist has been eaten, although a few of the villagers have had injuries. Every tourist who arrives there is told the story of the poor Swiss tourist who wandered off on his own to take photographs and was never seen again. His camera was found hanging in a tree. This presumably is to prevent more visitors doing the same.
These huge monitor lizards only live on this small cluster of islands and although there are other big monitors elsewhere in the world, none are as impressive as these ten foot long powerful beasts, especially when viewed on these desolate prehistoric islands.
Flores, the biggest of the islands that the lizards inhabit, has an airport, with flights from Bali. It takes several hours to get there in small old planes, which hop between other islands on the way and tend to have a slightly unreliable service, so you need to allow several days for a trip to Komodo National Park. The biggest island in the National park is Komodo, but Rinca also has a large number of "dragons", so both of these fairly large islands should be visited. When I was there, I was stranded on Flores for an extra day because the airline claimed the plane wasn't working, although I suspect they didn't have enough passengers to warrant taking off.
Boats can be booked from Flores to the National park. My traveling companion and I hired a boat and pilot for two days, and slept and ate on the boat, moored off Komodo Island. We managed a bit of snorkeling during the trip too and many tourists come to Komodo specifically for diving. I can't remember the cost, but it was sufficiently inexpensive for us to charter the boat for just two people rather than joining a group.
Flores had basic accommodation and restaurants, but was not a particularly interesting place to stay except as a base for visiting the National Park, or diving.
Map of Komodo, Indonesia - Where is Komodo Island?
Guidebooks for Indonesia
The recommended amount of time to spend at the islands was two days, to improve the chance of seeing some of these endangered prehistoric creatures and my guidebook warned that there was a reasonable chance of not seeing any at all. The smaller island, Rinca has fewer dragons and allegedly a lower chance of seeing any. When I arriver at Rinca, the dragons apparently were not aware of this and a fairly large lizard was waiting for me on the jetty. The pilot of the boat smacked him over the head with an oar and he reluctantly lumbered away. No wonder they are endangered.
Guides met us and tourists from other boats, on arrival and briefed us on what we would see and we set off on a walking tour in small groups. The guides were equipped with thin walking sticks and running shoes. I thought that this seemed rather inadequate protection from a ten foot lizard, until I realised that in the event of a dragon-attack the guide could simply hit a tourist over the head and run away. Fortunately this never occurred.
During the time spent on the islands we saw many sleeping dragons of various sizes and quite a few wandering around, but the best sightings were in a clearing on Komodo Island. When the first tourists visited Komodo, many years ago, they would purchase a goat and tie it up in a clearing and wait to watch it being devoured by the dragons. They don't do that any more, but a few old dragons with good memories still come back to the clearing. I got some excellent photos from there, of dragons coming towards me with blood on their mouths after a kill nearby. The guide got rather agitated because I insisted on waiting for the ideal shot as they got closer, before jumping over the barrier into the safe viewing area.
We also visited the main village on Komodo Island, with its simple wooden huts on legs, to keep the dragons out and frightened looking goats and children running around underneath them.
Komodo National Park was a wonderful, memorable place to visit and I certainly don't regret it, but it is a big detour even if you are staying in Bali and does take several days. If we had gone all that way and not seen any dragons I would have been very disappointed.
Both Komodo and Rinca has a large number of Komodo monitor lizards of various sizes wandering around or sleeping. The biggest grow to about ten feet in length, which while not the only monitor lizard in the world of enormous length, it is by far the heaviest.