A Close Encounter with a Komodo Dragon
Featured destinations: Indonesia
Published 05 September 2016
The creature lumbered towards me. Slowly, methodically it paced along the narrow dirt track, its claws scratching into the dust while its forked tongue flicked at the humid air. I was face to face with the elusive and deadly Komodo dragon, and now there was nothing between me and the dragon I'd come so far to find...A wild Komodo dragon image: Richard Collett
How had it come to this?
I was merely metres away from one of the deadliest land animals in Indonesia, if not the entirety of the known world, and unfortunately I found myself at the front of the group I'd been trekking with. The Komodo dragon was exactly what I'd set out to find, but now, I was just a little too close for comfort. The park ranger was looking the other way, a small deer had just been spotted running off through the trees, and the ranger was explaining to our group of hikers how the Komodo dragon loved nothing more than to stalk its unsuspecting prey through the dense undergrowth before savaging them. Deer in Komodo National Park image: Richard Collett
Deer in Komodo National Park image: Richard Collett
Here be dragons
The Komodo dragon can grow up to three metres in length. The one staring down the path towards me wasn't quite this large, but this was of no comfort to me now. With his back still turned, the ranger carried on casually explaining how these reptiles are lightning fast, with razor-sharp talons that can rip animals to pieces in seconds. Now I decided to quietly point down the path, towards the menacing shape that was slowly bearing down upon us.
Komodo National Park
I'd travelled east for a few days, over land and sea from Bali, Indonesia, to get to Komodo National Park. The wildlife here is so unique that the park has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and this small collection of islands is one of the few places in Indonesia, indeed the whole world, where the infamous Komodo dragon can be found in its most wild of habitats. The dragon takes its name from the smaller Komodo Island, but I was on the larger island of Rinca, where they are found in the greatest numbers. Buffalo in Komodo National Park image: Richard Collett
Buffalo in Komodo National Park image: Richard Collett
The legend of the dragon
Before I arrived, I'd heard local legends of a monstrous, lizard-like creature on a far off island that stalked its prey patiently for days through the forest, and would cause a human, if bitten, to slowly disappear. When I disembarked on Rinca Island, the ranger who later led me in search of this deadly predator told me bluntly that the folklore was true; the Komodo dragon's bite can make a human disappear. When they hunt, they inject dangerous toxins into their prey, causing a slow gangrenous death if untreated. After biting, the dragon simply stalks the unfortunate victim, just waiting for the toxin to do its deadly work. Trekking in Komodo National Park image: Richard Collett
Trekking in Komodo National Park image: Richard Collett
Into the wild
The local ranger guided us through the island's forests, through the thick scrub and across the wide open plained hills in our search for a Komodo dragon. He was armed with nothing but a simple pronged stick, a weapon he wielded with deft confidence and experience. He explained that with this very stick he had once fended off a Komodo which had snuck into his office while he was sorting out the paperwork. It seemed I was in safe hands. Komodo landscape image: Richard Collett
Komodo landscape image: Richard Collett
The dragon remains elusive
I was enthralled by the scenery. From the top of a hill, after a sweaty trek through thick forest, I could look out across the national park, with the sea in the distance shimmering a beautiful shade of turquoise in the bright sunlight, and the thick dry scrubland surrounding me in a green haze. I'd seen buffalo trampling through the bushes and deer leaping through the trees. The Komodo dragon though, remained elusive.
Komodo dragon approaches image: Richard Collett
The dragon appears
After hours in the sweltering heat of the Indonesian sun, my trip into the forest was nearing its end, but as the ranger explained the deadly capabilities of the Komodo, the dragon reared its scaly head and began ambling straight towards me!
Into the bushes
I pointed at the reptile, and the ranger urged us all hurriedly into the bushes on either side of the path. I was close enough to see its tongue flickering and its talons gleaming in the sunlight. The ranger was brandishing his stick, ready to strike, while I was mesmerised by the plodding creature that I had travelled so far, and searched for so long, to see. Komodo dragon image: Richard Collett
Komodo dragon image: Richard Collett
Face to face with the Komodo dragon
I was metres away, but the Komodo dragon had no care for that. It carried on – the master of the forest – and slowly made its way into the trees. I was left in the undergrowth, knowing that I'd just come face to face with the Komodo, but that luckily, the Komodo had already eaten that day.
It was a close encounter.
Sunset on Komodo image: Richard Collett
I'm Richard, the founder of adventure travel blog Travel Tramp. I'm a travel mad Englishman on one epic adventure around the world, getting as far off the beaten track as I can! You can find more of my work at www.travel-tramp.com
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