Komodo National Park
  • Daily Expedition Reports
  • 28 Aug 2015

Komodo National Park, 8/28/2015, National Geographic Orion

  • Aboard the National Geographic Orion
  • Pacific Islands & Australia - OLD

"Here be dragons!" Such words were written into the corners of old mariner's maps, hidden on the edges of the known world beyond which monsters both magnificent and terrible lay, creatures of nightmares that only the brave and foolhardy would seek out. Today we know that dragons don't really exist, right? Surely not the mythical, fire-breathing versions of our most fanciful tales? Fortunately not, perhaps, but that doesn't mean that the wondrous creatures that probably inspired them—at least in part--can't still be found.

Today National Geographic Orion sailed into Komodo National Park to visit a group of islands upon which dragons really do still exist. The so-called Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is the world's largest lizard, a "monitor" of fearsome repute, capable of hunting down prey much larger than itself, and indeed occasionally even of killing a human. Now thought to have first evolved in northern Australia, along with similarly gigantic megafauna, it was able to spread throughout the islands that now comprise Indonesia when sea levels were much lower over 900,000 years ago. When sea levels rose these reptiles became stranded, and while extirpated from much of their former range, dragons are now endemic on a handful of small islands sandwiched between the Indian Ocean and Flores Sea. On these islands, the dragon is truly a master of its domain, and filled with tales of these magnificent monsters, our guests made their way in the early morning to the island of Rinca.

We passed through an archway flanked by two large Komodo dragon statues, the sign above which may as well have said "Welcome to Jurassic Park." Dinosaurs lurked here, and it wasn't long before we spotted them lumbering around in the distance. Before we'd even departed on our longer treks, we encountered a group of dragons, some lying alone, others sitting in small groups (by the kitchen, not coincidentally), and they did not disappoint. Long, yellow tongues flicked out like tendrils of flame, tasting the air and our unusual odour. Heads lifted with interest, surveying these visitors who had the audacity to visit their domain. As we trekked around the island, we were struck by the ancient nature of the place, seemingly unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years. Dragons lurked in the shadows, dragons walked by us boldly on pathways, dragons tended their nests, and we were even lucky enough to find a dragon digging a new nesting hole, flinging clawfuls of soil backwards as we watched. The other wildlife on the island seemed rather intimidated by all this, with deer gingerly grazing with one eye on the dragons (not surprisingly, venison features heavily in Komodo dragon menus), even the normally cheeky capuchin monkeys keeping their distance. It was a magical place that was a dream come true to visit for many of our guests.

The afternoon was a time to enjoy the amazing marine life of Komodo National Park, although our first intended destination was aborted after a Komodo dragon decided it was going to take up the entire beach. We headed instead for Pink Beach, so called due to the particles of red coral that wash ashore with every wave. Local colour abounded everywhere, but our guests were lost amidst the corals and the colourful fish found in wondrous number, diversity and form. A long day, then, but one not easily forgotten.

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Kimberley Expedition: Northwest Australia & Indonesia


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