Indonesia's dragons draw tourists to 'Jurassic' islands

They don't breathe fire but Komodo dragons - the largest lizards in the world - can kill a buffalo or any one of the intrepid tourists who flock to their deserted island habitats.

"I feel like I'm in the middle of Jurassic Park, very deep in the past," said Hong Kong visitor Michael Lien during a recent trip to Komodo Island, the main habitat of the threatened Indonesian lizards.

Spread out before him is a landscape from the dawn of time - mountainous islands with palm trees plunging down to the azure sea. Lien and his wife are excited and a little nervous at the same time.

"What am I supposed to do if a dragon appears suddenly?" he asks Johnny Banggur, the guide on a tour of the island, an almost uninhabited speck in the east of the vast Indonesian archipelago.

Armed with 18 years experience and a hefty club for good measure, Banggur dispenses some welcome advice: don't wander from the track and stay with the group.

Three metres (10 feet) long and weighing up to 70 kilograms (150 pounds), Komodo dragons are lethargic, lumbering creatures but they have a fearsome reputation for devouring anything they can, including their own.

They prefer to scavenge for rotting carcasses, but can kill if the opportunity arises.

Scientists used to believe their abundant drool was laced with bacteria that served to weaken and paralyse their prey, which they stalk slowly but relentlessly until it dies or is unable to defend itself.

But new research has found the lizards are equipped with toxic glands of their own. One bite from a dragon won't kill you, but it may make you very sick and, eventually, defenceless.

In 2007 a nine-year-old boy went into the bushes to answer a call of nature and never came back. In 1974 a Swiss man disappeared during a bird-watching walk. His glasses and camera were all that was ever found.

Komodo dragons have appalling table manners but at least they finish their dinners - bones, hoofs and all.

Banggur explains that dragons can devour half their own weight in a single meal. Reassuringly, he adds that they "prefer" buffalo, deer or wild boar and the danger to humans is "very limited".

Even so, the Liens have no intention of going anywhere near the menacing reptiles, with their yellow, forked tongues, powerful jaws and sharp claws.

About 2,500 dragons live on the island named after them ("komodo" means dragon in Indonesian). Along with neighbouring Rinca island, it is the main dragon habitat in the Komodo National Park, created in 1980 to preserve the ancient species.

The island's brave human inhabitants - about 2,000 in all - used to hunt wild boar and deer, thereby competing with the lizards for food. Now they are the dragons' chief guardians.

"On Komodo, everything is done for the peaceful cohabitation of humans and dragons," park manager Mulyana Atmadja told AFP.

Visitors pay to set foot on the islands and take guided tours on designated tracks, always in the company of a ranger. Some 40,000 tourists are expected this year, 90 percent of them foreigners.

"We need to act carefully because an excessive number of visitors will trouble the Komodos' natural habitat," Atmadja said.

US environmental group The Nature Conservancy has helped the Indonesian authorities shift the local economy into one that sustains both the human and reptilian inhabitants.

The villagers still fish but no longer compete with the dragons for food. To supplement their incomes they have the exclusive right to sell Komodo miniatures, pearls and other souvenirs.

"We've done campaigns to raise the locals' awareness and provide other sources of income for them. The more tourists who come to visit, the more money they can earn," the park chief added.

It's worked so well the park managers were able to stop feeding the dragons in 1990. Some of the lizards had apparently forgotten how to fend for themselves and simply waited for tourists to offer them live goats.

Komodo Island is already listed as a World Heritage site by the United Nations, and there is now a push to include it on a list of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-Qualified Accountant) - Manchester

    £23000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Accountant (Part-...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat