Komodo

After a brief flight from Bali on a twin propeller plane that fit 80 people, we landed in Labuan Bajo and sped right to our hostel.  The girls weren’t feeling great so they held up and relaxed in their “morgue-like” bed.

The skull and crossbones on the map is where we stayed.  We taxied  for 90 minutes straight South to Rinca (where the little dragon is).  Then we taxied to Manta Point to try to see Manta Rays.  Then to Saiba right next to Manta Point.  Then back to pirate island (Sebayur).  

According to this IUCN Red List the Komodo Dragon is vulnerable.  Komodo National Park may close for a year (CNN reports), which is a combination of mass tourism and smuggling of Komodo Dragons off the island.  We asked several people about this, and they all said it was government “talk” by a new administration.  The park brings in too much money for the region to close it.

Komodo National Park is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Rinca

Everyone is happy except Kylie who feels a sense of impending doom.

We rounded the bend into Crocodile Bay of Rinca Island (the c in Rinca has a “ch” sound) and saw the landing dock.  It felt a little like arriving at Jurassic Park.  Most of us were excited, but Kylie became more and more terrified.  She didn’t want to go.  She didn’t want to get eaten.  It might have had something to do with the bedtime stories Sharleen read to her of all the Komodo attacks in recent years.  We were greeted by Jenny who would be are our ranger intern for the day.  Common Long-tail Macaques played in the trees and under the pier.  We walked the short path to the ranger village and saw one Komodo crossing the path.

I knew Komodo Dragons were ambush hunters, so I looked carefully at all the nooks and crannies as the rangers kicked back and relaxed by a tree.  After paying, our official Ranger Khy gave us the safety talk.  “There is ranger in front and ranger behind, do not stray from group.  Follow all directions.”  Khy also let us know that we entered through Loh Buaya (Crocodile Bay).  “There used to be a great many crocodiles around, but because so many people now, there are less.  They mostly hide in the mangroves.  Khy has been a ranger for five years.  He received special training.  “You have to be a little bit brave to have this job, most people are too afraid of the Dragons.”  He answered every question Sharleen and I threw at him and kept us safe.  Thank you Khy and thank you Jenny.

We saw two females and one male right in the ranger village.  We took some snaps and were mesmerized by this living prehistoric reptile.  Fossil records of the Komodo Dragon go back 900,000 years with their ancestral fossils in Australia going back 3.8 million years.  With Komodo fossils dating back to at least three million years ago.

Bacteria laden drool dripped from the males mouth as it kept one eye on the stupid tourists jockeying for a photo.  The bacteria in the Dragon’s mouth contains proteins that prevent wounds from blood clotting.  Animals (including humans) who are bit, will continue to bleed.  On man’s leg was bit in was bit in 2002, his leg bled for weeks, and it was over a month of treatment before he was able to walk again.  Aside from that, the Dragons have venom according to Khy.

A drooling Dragon

In fact:

In 2005, University of Melbourne researchers noted localized swelling, redness, bruising and affliction at the place where the dragon bites. Low blood pressure, muscle paralysis, hypothermia are some of the symptoms associated with the Komodo dragon’s bite, but whether it proves the lizard is venomous cannot be decided. Scientists wonder whether that substance has other biological functions beyond weakening prey; if so, it wouldn’t simply be “venom”. source: Click Here

Komodo_Rinca_family1
Kylie is looking less than happy. with our proximity to this child eating dragon
These claws certainly caught Kylie’s attention.   They looked this big to her.

Despite being so lethal, Timor Deer, and Common Long Tail Macaques lounged around the ranger camp with 10-15 meters of the Dragons without a concern.  “They know the dragons are full. They are not worry.”  Deer dealing with existential immediate problems, did not know how precarious its situation was.  There are less than 10,000 of these deer left in the wild and their numbers are decreasing according to the IUCN Red List.  They are scattered amongst the Flores islands, Java, and Bali.  The primary reason for the vulnerable status is human hunting.

There were three treks available, we took the medium length one.  Kylie did not want to walk three kilometers through Dragon territory.  “I don’t want to get eaten, daddy.  It sounds so bad.  That is my worst fear.”

Shortly into the trek Jenny, pointed out a Komodo Dragon nest.  Khy explained that a Komodo Dragon frequently steals nests from Orange-Footed Scrubfowl or other dragons.  She will usually lay about 30 eggs and then dig several other nests to camouflage the true locations of her eggs to prevent predators from stealing her eggs.  The have about the same gestational length as humans.   (And here is where it got weird.)  When born the babies hustle into the trees.  Not only will other dragons eat them, their own mother may eat them.  So why bother camouflaging the nest if she would eat her children anyway?

The desert isle forest was eerily quiet.  Every snap, leaf landing, or movement caused all of use to jerk our heads and look carefully.  The pathway was littered with massive buffalo poop.  Each poop was about a 30 centimeters high and looked to weight a kilogram.  The first one we saw, made Kylie and Alyssa cringe as they thought dragons pooped that much.  (If that’s the poop, the creature must be massive).  Large males grow to be about three meters long and can weight up to 150-200 kilograms.

This  little one cruised by us.  It’s belly was full, so the rangers said we didn’t need to worry.

“If they come, we can climb a tree right?” asked another guest.  Small ones can climb trees, but that isn’t the problem.   We have three poisonous snakes: Spitting Cobra, Green Viper, and Brown Viper.  Two like trees.”  “Can we out run them?” “No, they run 20 km/hr, and they swim.”  These Dragons really are alpha predators.  The only thing keeping us alive was a small stick held by Jenny and Khy.  I gave Kylie a stick and it made her feel a little better.

There are about 1,500 dragons on Komodo, 1,400 on Rinca, and a small amount on Padar, and some on Flores Island, Gili Montang Island.  “A land bridge used to join the island, but it disappeared thousands of years ago.  Now they swim sometimes to move.”

As if Kylie wasn’t feeling any worse we came upon a collection of bones.  “They eat 80% of their weight in one feeding.  They eat bones, antlers, horns, everything.  They digest bones or spit out bones.”

“Don’t let them get me, daddy.” Alyssa, wasn’t saying a word, but I could tell she was mildly concerned.

Arid, dry, hot.  Just a few kilometers may have well been a marathon.

We climbed up out of the lowland forest and the scenery gave way to rolling dry grassy hills with occasional palm trees.  It revealed how barren and punishing this landscape is and only the most hardened of animals survive here.  It was hot and the sun felt like extra punishment.  Khy told us he walks this path sometimes 15 times a day depending on how many tourists.  “It is very busy season now.”

We saw a giant buffalo under a tree.  “The buffalo here are wild now.  They are dangerous.  Do not approach.  Many years ago they were brought here for dragon food and sport, but now they are wild.”

“How do Komodo dragons kill something so big?” A guest asked “The dragon will bite a leg, and then follow the buffalo, sometimes for days, until the poison gets it.”

We passed by some fresh Komodo Dragon poop.  “That’s a lot of poop dad.”

The bones of what the dragon eats turns its poop white.

We passed another smaller buffalo lounging under a tree.

“Hey there’s less of me in the world than of the dragons, why can’t I get an island to myself?”

Just like the Timor Deer, the Asian Water Buffalo are endangered according the IUCN redlist.  Less than 3,000 exist in the wild worldwide.  (The rangers call these Wild Asian Buffalo, but some naturalists don’t consider these to be wild as

And just like that, we rounded a corner, crossed a bridge and found ourselves back at the Ranger village as a group of 50 tourists were arriving.  We were grateful our little group of six was more intimate.

To celebrate our survival, we split a coconut.  Kylie lost her tooth and her mood changed dramatically.  She was glad about surviving, but even more glad she lost her tooth.  Alyssa we happy she made it out alive as well.  “I really thought they would try to eat me in the beginning, I was so scared….I just didn’t want to show it.”

Notice, Kylie is doing much better now.

A relaxing Dragon felt how we all did.

Snorkeling

On the way back we stopped at two snorkel locations, Manta Ray Point and Sebia Coral Gardens. We did not see Manta Rays, which was disappointing.  The current was very strong here. I had my hand on Kylie and had to kick with fins as hard as I could, but the current was still sweeping us away.  Kylie, so in wonder of all the fish, was kicking with the current and did not understand our situation.  We were quickly approaching the “dangerous area” where the guides told us not to go to.

I waved for the boat and they meandered over and threw us a line.  It was the first time snorkeling I was really nervous.  Alyssa went in without a life jacket and struggled.  She went back to get a jacket but by then, people were clamoring back into the boat.  “Dad, I was looking at some coral, I looked over and the coral I was looking at was 20 feet away.  I got a little scared,” Alyssa let me know later.

We pulled up to the second location.  It was much better.  There was no current and plenty of fish.  Kylie kept pointing and talking through her snorkel. “Look at that one.  Daddy, a long one.  Daddy, an orange one.”  She swam fast and darted from location to location, admiring colorful clams and fish.

Kylie finally had a positive snorkeling experience with big sister helping her all the way!

Komodo National Park is supposed to have some of the best diving in the world.  We did see a high fish diversity, although a lot of the coral reef was broken, damaged, or recovering.  We could see chip bag and some other plastic items.  Where water became shallow, much of the reef as broken.  In spite of a struggling reef, we had a great time.

The most difficult part of experience is conveying it to others.  As a teacher I wrestle with this everyday.  As a student in  my dojo, I see the Sensei show what is to be done with many subtle movements, and then I  struggle with the intricacies.  Experience is not easily conveyed.  Such is the case with diving.  Words don’t capture the sensations well.  Pictures are always too blue and don’t showcase the wide array of color.  There really isn’t a way to explain what it is like to be floating and swimming with schools of fish all around.

Iridescent purple coral on a green top

 

Swimming in the school of fish

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