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November 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 26, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Komodo Dragons

from the November, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Four days into our journey, we arrived at Komodo National Park, home of the world's largest monitor lizard. The Komodo dragon bites to kill. Once it gets a taste of blood, it is impossible to separate it from its prey. The toxic bacteria in its saliva creates an infection that slowly kills the animal. Komodos will devour everything, including the hide.

Close to 10 feet in length, they weigh as much as 150 pounds. They have no predators. Komodos fight with one another and cannibalize their young, weak and old. Hatchlings, to avoid being eaten, live in trees for two years. In Komodo National Park, an estimated 2,500 dragons live on five of the islands. They swim, propelled by their long tail. After being warmed by the sun to their optimal temperature, they develop the energy to hunt. They can smell prey as far as seven miles away.

Two rangers took my dive group for a 90-minute hike on the arid and hilly island. I saw at least a dozen dragons and wondered if the rangers had overfed these motionless giants (they once fed them goats to entertain tourists). As we climbed the hill overlooking the bay and the Arenui, we saw their prey: water buffalo and Timor deer. Several Komodos were near the trail, one drinking from a stream. Since the guides needed only to carry long forked sticks to keep then at bay, I figured there wasn't much to fear, though a Komodo killed a local eight-year-old boy in 2008.

- - N.M.

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