“ Country: Indonesia / World Region: Asia „
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 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 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.
The National Park
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.
If you would like to see the photos, I have put them on this web-site:
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.
The famous dragons of Komodo are just an evolutionary stone's throw away from the dinosaurs. They exist only on the islands which make up Komodo National Park, nestled between Flores and Lombok, two islands East of Bali. I'd heard stories about the dragons throughout Indonesia. Standard practice was to buy a goat at a local village, take it to the feeding area on Komodo island, tether it to a tree and wait for a dragon to come along and kill it. Then take photos, and acquire instant kudos from your friends back home. Sadly, Komodo's dragons have grown quite accustomed to this practice, and a certain stylish laziness has taken hold. There are still a few hopeful beasts hanging around the feeding area, waiting for their goat to come, but the main characteristic they display is a monumental lethargy. For something a little more stirring, head to Rinca island, also part of the Komodo National Park, but less well-trodden than Komodo itself. Boat trips operate out of Labuan Bajo on Flores and head West to Lombok, or in the reverse direction. On Rinca our guide’s equipment consisted of a cape and a Y-shaped stick. This was worrying since I'd heard many stories of the unfortunate "Mr. Brown", a tourist from Switzerland who'd supposedly been devoured by the dragons. "And all they left was his camera", we were told earnestly. From what I later discovered about the dragons I'm surprised they didn't take the camera and try to sell it. These animals are without doubt the hardest bunch of reptiles on the planet. Life is tough for a dragon even before birth. The eggs are buried a metre underground to prevent other dragons from eating them. Upon hatching, the new-born dragon will head straight up the nearest tree, desperately avoiding being eaten by it's parents or their friends. For the next six years they live in the trees, surviving on geckos, insects and snakes (vegetarianism is yet to catch on in the
dragon world). When they've developed sufficiently to emerge from the trees, the full grown dragons (now up to two metres long) have access to possibly the broadest menu any discerning predator could hope for. They eat anything: monkeys, wild pigs, wild turkeys, fish, deer, buffalo and Swiss tourists. Rinca definitely gets three chef's hats. In fact the dragons' only natural predators are other dragons. How on earth does a two metre dragon sitting around 30 centimetres off the ground devour a 100 kg buffalo? This is where the true predator instinct kicks in. The dragon will strike for the legs, hoping to slow the buffalo down. Even if the first wound fails to disable the animal, the dragon will follow its injured prey, and wait for the wound to infect before finishing the job. It’s a miserable way to die, which becomes clear as you watch a wounded buffalo sitting in a watering hole, a deep red gash running down its back, surrounded by evil-looking reptiles. Waiting for the demise which will bring their next meal is one of the few times when the dragons will associate with each other. It's quite hard to reconcile all these facts when you first see a dragon. I stood within a few metres and watched as the scaly monster blinked back at me. Then, with lightning speed, it did absolutely nothing. It did such an efficient job of doing nothing, in fact, that our guide took to hefting a rock at its back to try to get it to move. Thoughts of Mr. Brown stirred within me, and I gripped my camera tightly. Then the dragon sprang into action. He plodded away. Very slowly. So much for the killer instinct. If it came down to a straight fight, I reckon my grandmother could take on a Komodo dragon. However, these beasts are yet another of Indonesia's must-sees, and well worth the visit, if only to witness the desolate existence of an animal left behind by evolution, stranded on an island to kill, breed and die.
"Komodo National Park nestles between the large islands of Sumbawa and Flores, all of which are part of Indonesia's Lesser Sunda Islands. Home of the Komodo Dragon - its wonders are in danger of disappearing forever. The national park was founded in 1980, at first only in order to protect the Komodo Dragon. Later it was dedicated to the conservation of flora and fauna in general, including the maritime areas. The islands of the national park are of volcanic origin. Within its area there are living about 4000 inhabitants. In 1991 the national park was accepted as World Heritage by the UNESCO."