Day 686: Here Be Dragons

17.11.10:

Onboard my boat to see the Komodo Dragons were a couple of mad Italians from Milan called Franco and Frederico.  The two-hour ride from Labuanbajo to the island of Rinca (better than Komodo itself for seeing the dragons) would had been uneventful had the engine not EXPLODED three-quarters of the way there.  The boat owners rushed to fix the blown gasket (ignoring the fact that we were drifting dangerously close to some rocks) as Frederico, Franco and I whistled and hollered at any passing ships that came within earshot.  After about half an hour, a small ferry gave us a tow into Rinca Island’s one and only port.

Rinca and Komodo are protected national parks, so there are no backpackers and beach parties here: with good reason – the dragons are not just fascinating species worthy of protection (as are all animals within our increasingly shrinking biomass, with the exception of mosquitoes, parasitic wasps and the worms that cause river blindness: we could do without them), they are also remarkably deadly and a drunken backpacker would make for a great snack – if he or she hung around long enough for the venom to take its toll.

If anyone missed the macabre scenes shot for the BBC’s Life series last year of the dragons killing a water buffalo, I humbly suggest you attempt to track them down via YouTube.  They’re at the end of the second episode, the one on reptiles.  You see, the dragon’s venom isn’t very fast acting: indeed it can take up to three weeks to kill its prey.  This is where it all starts getting a little morbid.  After inflicting the deadly bite, the dragons will follow the stricken animal around 24/7 as it gets sicker and sicker, until it finally shuffles off this mortal coil – much like great big lizardy vultures.

Incidentally – do you know the difference between an animal that is venomous and one that is poisonous?  The terms are not synonymous: ‘venomous’ means that the animal will bite or otherwise inject venom into its prey to kill them.  ‘Poisonous’ means that you will get ill if you eat whatever it is.  So a snake is venomous, but you can eat one it if you’re feeling peckish.  A blowfish, on the other hand, will never bite you or cause you any problems whatsoever… until you’re stupid enough to eat one.

A good rule of thumb is that predators = venomous and prey = poisonous.

And, just for the record, ‘flammable’ means the substance itself burns (paper is flammable) but ‘inflammable’ means that the substance doesn’t burn, the vapours do (patrol is inflammable – as are all liquids you can set fire to).

I just thought I’d throw that in there.  Don’t say these blogs ain’t informative.

Anyway, we had a guide with a STICK! (woo!) just in case any dragon decided he or she fancied dining on ginger Scousers (or mad Italians).  Seems a bit mad that one of the most fearsome animals in the world can be held at bay by a stick.  There was a large group of dragons hanging out under the kitchen hut of the reserve lodge.  After snapping some photos and getting some footage, we headed out into the jungley interior to try and find one of these illusive creatures doing what they do best: hang around waiting for their latest water buffalo to die (poor old Fred Flintstone).  We soon found evidence that Here Be Dragons: the females will dig loads of holes all over the place and only lay her eggs in one to confuse egg-eating predators.

After walking for about 45 minutes we stumbled upon a couple of buffalo chilling out in a muddy creek, and, sure enough – there was a dragon keeping sentry.

Look!

It didn’t move much, though.  I asked the guide if I could borrow his stick to poke it.  I hope he know I was joking…!  Magnificent animals, but I didn’t get too close: I didn’t want a septic leg – when they want to they can move lightning fast.  But not today and not in the tropical heat of the noonday sun.  If you come to see them in June you might be very lucky and see a couple of males fighting.  In a quirk of evolution, (and like Adult Friend Finder) the male-to-female ratio is 1 to 4 – so competition is fierce.

Dragon!

Hmm… my pics don’t really do justice to these fellas.  Since I use professional video kit (which sometimes even works!) I don’t bother with a professional SLR stills camera: too much kit to guard 24/7!  The video I got was much better.  I might sell it to the BBC.