Komodo Dragon

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 17:34

Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) was chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011. It was a long process started in 2007, involving people around the world voting through a global poll. Have you tried to see them with your own eyes or at least know more about them?

I was lucky to get a chance to visit Rinca island at the end of January, 2014 and see with my own eyes those Komodo dragons, the largest living species of lizard (can reach up to 3 meters long and weigh 70 kgs), which you can find only in Indonesia (excluding zoos).

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Scene from the top of a hill in Rinca island.

Komodos’ Home

According to scientists, Komodo dragon’s ancestors originated in Asia about 40 million years ago and then they migrated to Australia. About 15 million years ago, there was a collision between Australia and Southeast Asia, letting them to move into Indonesia. The last glacial period had trapped them in the islands until now.

Now Komodo dragons are protected in Komodo National Park which consists of five main islands, Komodo, Padar, Rinca, Gili Motang, and Nusa Kode islands. According to the ranger guiding us, only two of the islands opened to the tourists, Komodo and Rinca islands.

Komodo

Interesting Facts

1. The male Komodos have bigger heads and longer tails than those of the females.

Komodo

2. They practice polygyny – polyandry.

3. Mating season begins around June till August.

4. When fighting for females, Komodos will stand on their hind legs like human until the loser run away.

Komodo

5. The female will dig holes about 1 X 1 X 1 m to bury their eggs, but only one hole will be used. Others served as camouflage to fool other animals like wild boar from finding the eggs.

Komodo

6. 15 – 30 eggs are then laid in September. The eggs are about 8.6 cm in diameter which will be hatched after 7 – 8 months in April or May.

7. Young Komodos then dig their way out of the hole and live at least three years on trees to avoid being eaten by adults Komodos (Komodos are cannibals). Komodos can live up to 50 years.

8. The Komodo dragon uses its tongue to taste and smell. They can smell blood from 5 kilometres away, hence no women having period are allowed to join treks. Komodos here like to ‘visit’ the ranger’s station because they can smell food from the kitchen.

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Look at its stick-out tongue.
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The rangers’ house.

9. Komodo dragons are carnivores. They ambush their prey, not chase, although they can run at 18- 20 km / hr but only for short distance, about 100 metres. They get tired easily, they stop frequently during walking to gather back their energy.

10. The Komodo dragon’s diet includes other reptiles, deer, birds, monkeys, water buffalo, wild boar, and other mammals. Young Komodos eat insects, eggs, and small mammals.

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Komodo’s victims

11. Komodos have a venomous bite.  There are two glands in the lower jaw which secrete several different toxic proteins. They act as anticoagulant, and can cause lowering of blood pressure, muscle paralysis, induction of hypothermia, leading to shock. Their bites cause rapid swelling and pain.

12. The Komodo dragons are cold-blooded animal, they prefer a temperature range between 25 – 35 degree celcius. Higher than that, they take shelter in the shade, lower than that, they bask in the sun.

Komodo
Basking in the sun  the day after the rainy day.

13. They also dig holes with their powerful forelimbs and claws, that serve as strategic locations to ambush their prey and as a resting place at night.

14. The rangers follow a Komodo ‘tailprints’ and droppings to find these locations.

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A Komodo’s ‘tailprint’.
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What was left of Komodo’s droppings.

A Little About Rinca Island

The size of Rinca island is only about 25 X 20 km. There are two villages, one with around one thousand population and another about three hundred. They are all moslems. There is no restaurant or eating place so you have to bring your own food if you are to visit the place.

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Loh Buaya Pier, from where we enter Rinca island.

There are three different trekking choices. Short, medium and long trek. If your main goal is just to see Komodo dragon and it is a good day for Komodo to come out, I recommend you to just take the short trek. If you like hiking or you worry that you might not easily see one Komodo, you may want to take the long trek. Rinca island has more hills while Komodo island has more forests.

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Short, Medium, and Long Treks

One thing that attract my attention is the mangrove swamp. Lots of big cockles live in there and the funny looking fiddler crabs. The rangers said, there are alligators in there, too.

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Swamp
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Mangrove Forest
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Cockle
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Fiddler Crab

Other living creatures we can find in Rinca island includes : deer, water buffalo, horse, monkey, wild boar, various kinds of snake and bird.

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Up close and Personal

Fees and Costs

Motor boat : Rp 1 million to Rinca and Bidadari islands.
Entering ticket for Rinca island : Rp 25,000 / person
Ranger : Rp 80,000. 1 ranger for a maximum of five visitors.
Komodo sculpture : starting from Rp70,000.
Genuine pearl necklace : Rp 400,000.

In The News

In June 2001, Phil Bronstein, the then husband of actress Sharon Stone, was injured by a Komodo dragon when he visited Los Angeles Zoo.
In 2009, researchers found more evidence from various tests and MRI scans that Komodo dragons possess a venomous bite that can lead to death, thus disputed the previous theory that bacteria were responsible for the deaths of Komodo victims.
In 2013, researchers found out that the bacteria in the Komodo’s saliva do not differ from those of other carnivores.

Note

I had seen Komodo dragons at Rinca island and I had seen the ones in Bali Safari and Marine Park. I could easily see the difference. The ones in Rinca island live in the wild, hunt on their own, they are much healthier and alert than their peers at the Safari Park.

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