Keepers of the Lesser Sunda Islands for over a million years, the Komodo dragons of Indonesia are found only in Flores and the Komodo National Park. The largest lizards on Earth, their fearsome reputation as venomous killing machines brings visitors from all over the world to spectacular Flores.
A visit to Flores is often described as stepping back in time, with visitors awed by the peaceful hut villages, seemingly unchanged by outside influence. Travellers are welcomed by villagers, who still live according to regional traditions and time honoured custom, a way of life that respects the gentle ebb and flow of the tides and seasons. While in Flores, a day trip to Rinca and the Komodo National Park to see the dragons are on the must-do list, and there are many reputable tour groups who take tourists to see the wilds of Flores, and step back in time to an age when carnivorous predators ruled.
Rinca and Komodo National Park, home to the Komodos, are distinct from the lush rainforest found throughout most of Bali, and other nearby parts of Indonesia. Volcanic islands, they have vast, wide open savannah as well as dense forest, full of exotic bird life, surrounded by crystal clear waters that are perfect for snorkeling. The islands and national park are unspoiled wilderness, where time stands still, and the Komodo is king.
The powerful Komodos, sometimes known as ‘ora’ by the local villagers, meaning ‘land crocodile’, are known for their lethal claws and razor-sharp, serrated teeth. Using their forked tongue to ‘taste’ the air, they can detect dead animals from up to 8km away. So strong is their sense of smell, that in nearby Komodo village, graves must be fortified with heavy rocks to keep the Komodos from digging up bodies. They can live for up to 30 years, growing to three metres long, weighing around 100kg, and reaching speeds of up to 20 kms/hr, faster than most of us can run.
After hunting prey like pigs, deer and other dragons, the deadly Komodos attack, tearing the flesh of their prey with their teeth and claws, and loading the wounds with their anti-coagulant venom. The venom prevents blood from clotting, causing massive blood loss but not immediate death. The Komodo may then let their prey ‘escape’, before calmly tracking them for miles and finally tearing them apart, eating even hooves, hair and bone. Able to eat up to 80% of their own body weight in a single feeding, and armed with their own deadly arsenal and venom, the Komodos are incredibly well adapted predators, and awesome to see patrolling their natural habitat.
From May to August, the Komodos battle for territory and mates, and go head-to-head, claw-to-claw, in incredible displays of power and primal aggression, kicking up dust and destroying anything unfortunate enough to get in their way.
These impressive apex predators have at times been threatened by human encroachment on their habitat and poaching. While still vulnerable, the villages around Komodo and conservation groups are taking positive steps towards ensuring the healthy future of the magnificent, fearsome Komodo dragons. Education is vital to keep the dragons thriving for millions of years to come, and tour groups to the region take their role as conservationists seriously. The future of the Komodos is in their hands, as well as that of the region and future tourism to Flores.
Written by Suzanne Srdarov for The Voice of Flores