A gentle, haunting call to prayer hung in the humid morning air. It would soon be sunrise in Labuan Bajo. Butterflies of excitement fluttered through me, but nature gives no guarantees.
Carving a course through pristine, turquoise water, dolphins guided our journey to Komodo National Park. The landscape was extraordinary; sweeping golden beaches, grass carpeted hills met by tropical rainforest, cloaked in low cloud. I felt like Neil Armstrong as I stepped from the boat. How did I get to be so far from home, on such legendary islands?
I placed my life in the hands of a guide with a 6-foot stick and set off on the hunt. Within moments a dragon appeared! Nothing prepared me for the emotion of a childhood dream realised. I wanted to pinch myself to prove I wasn’t dreaming, but I didn’t want to wake from this dream. I wanted to telephone my dad and tell him where I am standing. I wished he were here in my dream with me.
The huge dragon lay motionless but alert, tongue tickling the air. A predator at the top of the food chain in this remote world, it has nothing to fear. Another dragon lumbers over and the two beasts greeted each other with tender touches. With claws like curved Arabian Janbiyas, and skin with beaded armour, these were formidable creatures.
I admired these beasts for some time, before being persuaded to continue exploring. We broke from the path to follow a dry river bed. This decision was to transform my Komodo experience.
Following the path of cracking earth, we rounded a bend and froze on the spot. We were standing meters from a family of water buffalo. These are huge beasts and well-armed with a crown of horns. Unbelievably, they didn’t seem to notice us. Their focus was drawn to some boulders in the opposite direction, and they appeared nervous. A Komodo dragon stepped from behind the rocks, and time stood still.
Dragon watching buffalo, buffalo watching dragon, us watching both, nobody moving, buffalo nervously snorting and gurgling. The dragon dragged himself forward, tongue flicking excitedly, and uneasy stand-off ensues. The adult buffalo position themselves between the dragon and their calves.
Without warning, the dragon exploded in to a frenzied assault, bursting past the adults; it latched on to the youngest buffalo of the group, throwing it to the ground. We dash for the cover, crouching behind a dead tree. The dragon was a whirlwind of jaws and claws. The cow runs, horns showing, to the defense of her calf. The Komodo spins and latches on to the cow’s nose, blood seems to be everywhere.
The bull stepped towards the tree that we are crouching behind and looked directly at us. I thought he might charge but he didn’t. He just stood looking at us, seemingly imploring us to intervene. My heart was pumping fast, and I knew for sure that stepping into this battle with our trusty forked stick would not bring the salvation that the bull was looking for.
I was led to believe that the dragon bites its victim and then waits patiently until it dies a lingering death by infection. This is clearly not the case. The Komodo is a savage killing machine, fully equipped with the tools required to kill and butcher a meal, at will.
The assault continued for some time, with long stand-offs during which the dragon appeared to gather its strength. The buffalo didn’t attempt to escape. The air was thick with silence except for the sound of hooves, claws and the strained, heaving breath of the buffalo. It was brutal and pitiful; I had a lump in my throat as I watched this young family’s plight. During the stand-offs the only sound I could hear was the sound we make in our own ears when we swallow.
Before the final act of this one-sided battle was played out, my guide put his hand on my shoulder saying “we need to go. Other dragons will be here soon, excited by the smell of blood. We are in danger”. As we walked away we were met by a huge dragon, shoulders rolling towards the scent of blood.
I slept soundly on the boat deck, under the stars that night. This had been an extraordinary experience that will remain with me for as long as I have a functioning memory. Komodo was everything that I had imagined as a child; a landscape that time had forgotten, where dinosaurs walk the earth, and the brutal struggle between life and death plays out in the oppressive heat and humidity of the Indonesian Archipelago.
This story is adapted from the original version posted on www.incidentalnaturalist.com.
About the Entry
- Blogger name | David Rigden
- Site name | Incidental Naturalist
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- Entry Number | 15
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