There are two popular access points for seeing Komodos in the wild, Komodo and Rincin Islands. (They also inhabit a couple of other spots including isolated patches of forest in Flores where the animals are very elusive and apparently a rusty colour, rather than the common-garden-variety sooty black) We visited both islands and preferred the former mainly I suspect because we hadn't at that stage spoken to any Komodo dragon tour guides, so were blissfuly unaware that 3 of them had been attacked in the past 3 months with fairly serious consequences. One guide told us he had been attacked six times but escaped unscathed, another that his best friend had recently been badly maimed and was still off on (very) sick leave. Scientific literature scoffs at such alleged violence toward humans by this giant lizard so I wonder if it's all about demonising the mythical creature (which did after all inspire the movie King Kong), in order to maintain its fearsome mystique (and perhaps elicit a bigger tip?) The fact that the guides carry nothing more protective than a 2 cm thick stick to ward off these 3 meter long monsters (which can apparently launch themselves at deer, pigs and water buffalo at 23 kilometres an hour), tends to support the scientist's perspective, but there is no doubt that they can be dangerous. That risk was not lost on our normally unflappable 13 year old who clambered up a tree clutching a rock and refused to come down when a big male latched his beady eyes on her.
Although Rincin is supposed to have a lot more "wild" animals than Komodo we saw a couple at each and I suspect most of the specimens one sees are in fact, pretty well semi-domesticated and hang around to entertain tourists, attracted by the odd food handout and left overs from the guide's kitchen. (A resident guide was savagely mauled in his kitchen earlier this year) Apparently tour ships drop by and spew out 2000 people at a time so it's understandable that the rules of non-interference with any threatened species (it's estimated that there may be as few as 300 to 400 breeding females in the total population of 4000 or 5000, spread over 4 locations) are bent a little to keep them visible, and the shiploads of dollars coming ashore. There are always about 6 to 10 hanging around the tour guides quarters, so you won't not see one.
I suppose in the end we all find the idea of a bloody great lizard which doesn't differentiate between a human being and a pizza; which both envenomates its prey and slobbers hyper-toxic red saliva into the wound it inflicts, then sits back and waits for it to die ( Estimates: Human 1 to 2 days, Deer, 2 to 3 days, Water buffalo, 1 to 2 weeks) from a cocktail of some 57 super-virulent strains of bacteria (up to 3 times more potent than normal) - morbidly fascinating!
The parks themselves are just patchy scrub and grass so pretty dissapointing after the visual feast of watching the islands take shape from a distance, rising like domes of lime green fuzz from the glassiest most inviting sea I've ever had the pleasure to dive into. Whatever you do don't miss snorkelling just 30 metres off Pink Beach on Komodo, the meticulous patchwork quilt of coral gardens here had my coral-savvy family enthralled for almost two hours.
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