The massive water buffalo sinks deeper into the muddy pond, seeking respite from the searing sun and relentless flies. Her giant horns are covered in mud and with every flap of her ears a cloud of flies erupts from her face. She lowers her face into the water and her body relaxes. She is hurt.
Behind her, on the edge of the pond and only a few feet away, a three meter Komodo dragon is literally drooling, waiting for the right moment to pounce. He doesn't move save his long, forked tongue that whips in and out of his mouth like a snake, anticipating a meal at hand. The tension is palpable.
Suddenly, the water buffalo rears her head out of the water. Finally, she has sensed the danger. She swings her long horns around and faces the muddy bank where the dragon is frozen like a statue. You can read exactly what goes through each animals' mind at this very moment: Oh fuck.
Komodo dragon, literally drooling
I am not making this scenario up. When I told you that I was hoping to see a Komodo dragon take down a water buffalo I was merely being optimistic (and a bit cheeky). When actually faced with the opportunity to see a dragon rip open the rump of a massive water buffalo, I shook with adrenaline. What would happen? Would the water buffalo, who was maybe twenty feet away from us, take off in a frenzied rampage? Or would the dragon, who was only, say 30 feet away from us, decide that six people were a better meal than one buffalo? There were no fences, no barriers and no weapons, only two guides who both carried big sticks.
We arranged for a walking tour of the island yesterday morning. We arrived at the dinghy dock at 6:30 AM to be greeted by macaque monkeys who barred their teeth at us when we tried to climb up on the dock. Kyle swatted at one with his shoe and it scampered off, but I am not sure I would have been so brave. They are ugly little buggers. We walked up to the ranger station and, along with people from another boat, were assigned two guides. After introductions and opting to do the "long hike" we set off.
Before we had even left the ranger station compound we ran into our first dragon. For being so huge they are surprisingly hard to spot. I could have easily fallen over one before I noticed it. Apparently they hang out in the ranger station because they like the smell of food, and rangers always have to be on guard - even when going to the showers or cafeteria.
I wish I could give you all sorts of information about Komodo dragons but we are out of internet range so you will have to Wikipedia it yourself. I do know that their preferred method of killing is to sneak up behind an animal, take a nice big bite and run off, leaving the poison of its saliva that prevents blood from coagulating to do the rest of the work. Wait for the animal to die, then come back to a nice warm meal. They can also run and swim faster than humans. Several people on the island have been bitten in the past years and some killed. Allegedly there was a Swiss tourist some years back that got separated from his tour group and never heard from again - only his camera and sunglasses were found.
I decided to stay with my group. One guide in the front and one behind. After leaving the compound area we did not see any more dragons, and an hour into the hike through yellow grasslands dotted with palm trees in extremely hot conditions I was beginning to... I wouldn't call it whinge... but I was hot and tired and am totally unaccustomed to any sort of exercise. As far as I was concerned we could have stayed at the ranger station and seen as many dragons.
And then we came across her. And him. And it was the most raw, nature vs. nature, eat or be eaten, kill or be killed, life or death scenario that I have ever experienced in real life. A Komodo dragon will only attack its prey from behind, and especially with water buffalo, will wait all day for the perfect positioning. One misstep and the buffalo can gore, injure and/or kill a dragon, which will be eaten by other dragons with no qualms. Nature is brutal out here.
So we watched. Our guides thought the water buffalo was already hurt because she couldn't seem to get out of the muddy pond, and had resigned to dying with the most comfort possible - in the cool water. Whereas the dragon was probably aware of her condition, he took no risks, patiently watching and waiting. Until their eyes met. She knew she was done for but would not go down without a fight. The dragon backed off and crawled around to the other side of the pond, once again at her back. She snorted, shook her head and settled back into the water. He laid down to wait for the perfect moment all over again. It could be hours, it could be days, but she would be his next meal.
I could have stayed there all day to watch. The only thing that made me uneasy was the fact that there were other dragons in the area, and who knows if one was stalking me, waiting for the perfect position to pounce on me. After a half hour or so the guides decided we should move on. As we were walking down the trail we saw dragons heading in the direction of the injured water buffalo. They were going to help take her down. I kept a good watch behind my back as we hiked back to the ranger station.
Whereas I have decided I do not like reptiles, the whole experience was quite a rush. It is only apt to throw in a Jurassic Park analogy here - I mean, we were hiking around on an uninhabited island full of ancient, oversized reptiles, i.e. dinosaurs. That's crazy. What is also crazy is that we just anchored off a beach on the south of Rinca island and there are Komodo dragons lazing on the beach. All's well in Jurassic Park.
At 9/10/2013 12:33 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 08°44.87'S 119°36.66'E
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