Komodo National Park

Zipadedoda of Dart
David H Kerr
Sat 1 Nov 2008 05:14

The Komodo National Park was set up some ten years ago with the objective of protecting and nurturing these unique reptiles. It in fact encompasses four Islands within its 1,817 square kilometres of beautiful and spectacular land and marine boundaries. Rinca, Gili Motang, Padar Island and of course Komodo itself. The remit of the national park has now been expanded to cover all forms of wild life both on the islands and especially the wonderful coral reefs and marine life that thrives here. It is claimed the area offers the best scuba diving in the world. There were certainly plenty of live aboard dive boats in evidence.


The establishment of the park which is a world heritage, site came to late to save the Komodo dragons (or Ora as the locals call them), on Paradar. The staple diet of the dragons….local deer, were hunted and shot to extinction by individuals from Jakarta. So the dragons starved to death on Padar Island. There are no plans to re-establish them there.


The national park is home to some 3,500 local people in four small villages. There are some 2,500 of these giant lizards surviving within the park. 1,200 of them on Komodo itself.


The anchorage for the park, and visitors centre (where all visitors must report), is in a bay on the SE corner of the Island. The safe spot for anchoring is off the black sandy beach, in 10 metres of water, to the east of the dilapidated pier cum jetty. Position 08:34:31S 119:30:24E.


Great care needs to be exercised when coming ashore by dingy, as there is a coral reef that extends some way out from the east of the jetty. The swell and surge here can also be difficult at times.


On arrival, we first had to report to the harbour master. Pay USD 20 and then have our “Green Book” AKA Cruising permit and all the other administrative paraphernalia you have to have in this country, duly checked and noted in their record book. Then you are allowed to pay your USD 15 per head for the park entrance fee. There were various “other” charges, designed to lighten the visiting tourists wallet.  Once all done, you are appointed a guide, who complete with his Dragon taming stick, invites you to determine which of the various walks you would like to undertake.  There is the 30 minute “quickie”, the one hour, the four hour or the full 17 km all day affair. The latter one is only open to special “scientific”  (and bloody fit) guests. We opted for the four hour tour. Actually trek would be more accurate. Note we started very early in the morning to avoid the worst of the midday heat and humidity. This is essential because it is VERY hot and humid here.


After the obligatory safety briefing and some background chat on the park and the animals, we set of in search of dragons.  Within 500 metres we came upon our first fully grown Dragon.



Now a word about our “hosts”. They reach more than 3 metres in length and weigh in at 90 kilograms. So clearly the worlds largest lizard. They can run at up to 30 kph, which is very surprising when you see them lumbering along. They are carnivores. Living on a diet of Timor deer. Wild boar, Water Buffalo, and even wild horse. Oh and when times are hard, snakes and monkeys (not the latter on Komodo). They have also been known to kill and eat humans. There are eight documented cases of this, one only last year when an eight year old boy from the local village was taken.


It is said that with their snake like tongue they can sense blood and body waste matter from up to 3 km.



A single bite from these creatures is deadly….and not a nice way to go! It has some 53 different bacteria within its mouth. This cocktail of bugs is deadly for most mammals and a slow lingering death awaits after 2 to 3 days of being wounded.  They hunt alone, usually at night, praying on sleeping victims. But, once a fresh meal is “in play” they stalk it until it dies and then eat as a group, with the others homing in on the sent of the blood and body wastes.  They have massive appetites. Eating the equivalent of their own body weight per day. They eat everything. Bones the lot.


  Fresh Dragon food on the hoof


Our guide was very well trained and informative. He took us to a dead palm tree, where perched on the very top was a baby Komodo Dragon.


  Baby Komodo Dragon, 20 metres up a tree.


This one was about 30 cm long and between 1 & 2 years old. As soon as they hatch, they take to the trees to avoid being eaten by their parents. Yes, the Komodo is also a sort of cannibal. At this stage in their development, like most other lizards, they live on Geckos, spiders and insects, as well as tree living snakes. They only return to earth when their body weight and gravity gets to the point where they can no longer climb the trees.


The Komodo dragon has an interesting symbiotic relationship with the Megapod bird. (Yes that is the name…it is not a joke). This bird looks a bit like a large Ibis, with a long curving beak and long spindly legs. Beige/brown in colour. It lives on grubs and insects, and finds these by scratching around in the undergrowth. It likes to breed in the spring, and so build a huge ground nest from light soil, twigs and dried leaves. Once it has finished with the nest (where they return each year) the female Dragons come along and dig a shallow hole in the nest and then lay their eggs in the hole, before covering them up and guarding them for up to three months. They lay between 18 and 30 eggs. As soon as these hatch, the dragon abandons the nest and its every man for himself as far as the off spring are concerned.


We were also shown the area where tourists used to come to watch feeding of the dragons. This was band some time ago as the dragons were getting lazy and not hunting for themselves. It was also making them very aggressive and there were a couple of nasty incidents involving tourists.


During our walk we saw wild Eagles, Wild Boar (but never close enough to photograph), a deer that had been bitten by a dragon, but was still just alive. But no Buffalo.


There is also an amazing range of wind birds to be seen and here as well as fruit bats and some sumptuous wild Orchids, growing on the larger trees.



After a thoroughly interesting and entertaining, but exhausting walk. We returned to the visitor reception and more to the point, the restaurant. We enjoyed scrambled eggs on toast and Bali coffee for a late breakfast, cum early lunch. 


  Komodo house


As we came back through the adjacent settlement which is for the National Park employees, we were able to study their houses. On the previous evening, one of the Dragons had decided to go into one of these houses, looking for food. The inhabitants quickly left, and apparently it was a major exercise the rid the house of the dragon. When we went bye, one of the dragons was enjoying a siesta in the shade by one of these same house. Living with Dragons? Not for me!



  Three metres of flesh eating lizard beneath a house………..


Finally we visited the craft stalls which are adjacent to the beach and the reception area. There were at least 30 stall holders all selling pretty much the same stuff. Carved masks, and wooden carvings of Dragons of various shapes and sizes. All at ridiculously high prices. I declined to buy anything and then they turned very aggressive and pushy. Any chance that I might have considered of buying trinkets or mementos went out of the window at this point. One guy followed us all the way back to the dingy and I swear would have come out to the boat too had I not insisted he leave us alone. Another one was asking for medical drugs from our medical kit on board. Quite an unpleasant experience. That said, one of them dropped the price to one fifth of what he quoted me at his stall, by the time we were back on the jetty.  So, it clearly was a rip off. We had intended to visit the village down the coast from here, but some other rally boats had not enjoyed the experience there due to the pushy and greedy behaviour of the inhabitants. So, we decided to give that a miss, and decided it was time to move on.


We had also taken advice about the best times to catch the favourable tide, so we were back on the boat and raising the anchor by 1100. WE then enjoyed an anti clockwise rollercoaster ride around Komodo, its fearsome tides (in out favour) for the next four hours. We then picked up a NP mooring buy on Gili Lawa Laut on the NE corner of Komodo.


After a quite, well not that quite night, thanks to the compressors running all night long on the adjacent dive boat. We dropped the buoy at 0830 on the morning of the 17th October to head west once again.  This time for a bit of pampering and RnR…………………………..


It was a fulfilling experience visiting Komodo. It once again re-enforced our decision to press ahead with the tour of Nusa Tenggara. What an amazing and fascinating country it is.  Indonesia represents only 1.7% of the worlds surface area….but has 17% of the worlds plant and animal species. Many of which are unique to Indonesia.


Then there was lots more to look forward to……………….bring it on!