Appeasing the Dragon

Between the shamelessly ‘touristy’ chapters of our holiday in Bali, Ms and I took a detour to a more remote part of Indonesia.

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A one and half hour flight found us on the island of Flores – the gateway to the largest and oldest lizard on the planet – the Komodo Dragon.

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The dragon is endangered, its population numbering less than 4,000 and increasingly threatened by habitat loss due to tourism and a rapidly increasing human population.

Unaware that we were part of the problem, and keen to catch a glimpse of the mythic creature, we chartered an Indonesian boat and headed for an overnight tour of the islands of Rinca and Komodo.

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View nearby Golo Hilltop Hotel

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Our first surprise was finding the boat manned by two boys young enough to be in high school.

Captain Ajib, age seventeen…

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And his First Mate, Parman, age fourteen.

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While the rest of us, including our own personal tour guide, Lexy, sat back and – well, sat back – Parman hopped quietly about the boat, forever engaged in some duty or the other.

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His most important role was food preparation.

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A tasty menu of stir fried noodles, seafood and tempeh, sautéd vegetables, battered eggplant, potato fries, rice and banana pancakes – all came from a kitchen the size of a cupboard.

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His skills, picked up from his mother, frankly, put both of us women to shame. I will never again complain about my kitchen.

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Thanks to Parman, we had the energy we needed for our ‘moderate’ treks through the tropical jungle and savannah in search of the dragon.

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Our tour guide, Lexy, with the National Park Ranger.

We learned the dragon has over 50 types of bacteria in its saliva that will slowly poison the blood supply of anything it bites.

Wild buffalo (as well as the elusive wild boar)…

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Deer (as well as dogs, goats and anything smaller).

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The dragon also eats its own young, who are forced to take refuge in trees from the moment they hatch until about four years old.

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This one was about 3 months old.

We saw the whole family of dragons – the frisky teenager…

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Tired Mama (yep, another ‘Kodak Moment’)…

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Exhibitionist Papa…

And even the Grumpy Old Grandpa, whose been hanging around camp ever since he broke his leg in a fight with another male dragon.

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We were told the dragons often come to the camp, because they can smell food. But the connection between the dragons and humans goes way back…

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According to local legend, Princess Naga, the spiritual ancestor of the Ata Modo people, once gave birth to twins – a human child and a Komodo Dragon.

For this reason, the local people never kill the dragon, and would traditionally leave a deer or goat on the outskirts of the village, as an offering.

But since the islands became a National Park in 1980, this practice has no longer been allowed.

In 2007, for the first time in 33 years, a local 8 year old boy was killed by a dragon. Attacked on the outskirts of the village.

Then again, in 2009, two dragons mauled to death a fruit picker who fell out of a tree.

I wonder.  What happens when local customs are outlawed? Does the dragon magically forget its god given right to be appeased?

Or is this story symbolic of a wider imbalance between the needs of nature and the needs of humans?

Perhaps there’s no easy answer. But I know one thing – I wouldn’t want to mess with this fella…

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Have you ever seen an endangered species in the wild? Do you think they have a right to be appeased?