Dragon Spotting on Indonesia’s Komodo Island

These islands are home to many creatures.
Komodo and Rinca are among dozens of islands in the Flores Sea. Photo by Matt Scott

Once we reach higher ground, the forest thins out into savannah grassland, with an occasional palm and small shrubs. Lying under a nearby tree is the largest Komodo dragon we have seen, almost 10 feet (3 m) long, with a huge girth; it has recently eaten. “They can eat almost their whole weight in one meal. I don’t think he will eat for a while,” says Silva, indicating two deer grazing close by.

Komodo dragons rely on surprise to bring down their prey, which can include animals as large as water buffalo. Hiding in long grass or thick forest cover, a Komodo will try to bring a victim to the ground with a whip of its tail, then it will bite the prey. The Komodo’s deadly bite leads to a slow and painful death.

Dozens of dragons converge on the corpse once it succumbs to the poison, about a week later. They often fight over food, but their thick skin protects them against an opponent’s claws, and dragons are not affected by another’s bite.

Using its claws, the Komodo usually begins by eviscerating the animal and consuming its entrails. When Komodos feed they ingest the entire animal; skin, bones, hooves and even antlers will be consumed. There will be little evidence left when they are finished feeding.

Fossils resembling Komodo dragons have been found that date back 30 million years, and it is thought that they once roamed over much of maritime Southeast Asia. While they are not descended from dinosaurs as is often assumed, research has suggested their ancestors date back anywhere from 50 to 200 million years.

We walk to the top of a nearby hill, the remains of an ancient volcano that created the island. From here we see the home of an entire species: a few small islands ringed with mangroves, white sands and coral reefs. These islands sit atop the Sahul and Sunda continental shelves; this is an active seismic area.

While at the moment there are no active volcanoes in the area, with an entire species occupying such a small area, a single eruption could easily see these prehistoric creatures go the way of their Jurassic family.

If You Go

Indonesia Tourism – Komodo Island