What it Takes to Live in a Dragon Island

Sleeping Komodo Dragon

During my trip to Labuan Bajo at the end of May 2021, I saw beautiful places and met interesting travel mates.

I also heard stories from the locals. And one of the stories that caught my attention is the story of Dragon Island people.

A Brief Explanation on Komodo

To any of you who never heard about Komodo Dragon, I should point out that Komodo is the earth’s biggest lizard known for its venomous, neurotoxic, full of dangerous bacteria saliva. Its bite could cause shock and fatal infection – most cases ended up with amputation in order to prevent the venom and bacteria from spreading.

Komodo also have thick skin, around 2 centimetres, makes it hard to dope the animal with sedatives or sleeping solution. Even if someone try to insert the sedatives through baits, Komodo is also known for its sensitive sense of smell, not to mention its strong stomach acids. Komodo does not chew its lunch, the strong stomach acids do it for the creature. To simply put: it’s hard to poison the mother of poison.

If you still see this creature as a cute resident of earth (since you watched Si Komo), let me point out another fact: Komodo eats its own baby. They eat each other, cannibalism runs in the blood. This is why baby komodo instinctively running from its mother the minute it hatches from the egg. The babies climb the nearest tree and stay there for 2 years after, to avoid themselves from being eaten by their mothers.

All of the scary facts above are what make Komodo more dangerous than a lion or bear. Nobody and nothing has found a way to tame the animal. Not even motherly instinct could seep into its thick skin.

Sleeping Komodo Dragon
Sleeping Komodo Dragon

What Does it Mean to be Crowned as One of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites

Dragon island or also known as Komodo island is one of the five islands in the southeastern part of Indonesia where Varanus komodoensis or Komodo Dragon, exists.

The Komodo National Park that is composed of three major islands (Rinca, Komodo, and Padar) was established in 1980 in order to protect the earth’s biggest lizard. The fact that the place was declared as one of the UNESCO’s world heritage sites means that the place is protected by an international convention administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that includes (I copy this from unesco.org):

  • standard-setting activities
  • technical and scientific assistance, and support for training and capacity-building;
  • policies to combat illicit trafficking and for the return and restitution of cultural property;
  • preservation, safeguarding, rehabilitation and conservation measures
  • policies to promote, educate, raise awareness and inform aimed at the general public and professionals.

The 3 benefits of being claimed as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites are:

  • Press and popularity – a magnet for tourist
  • Funding – for protection and conservation
  • Protection from war by Geneva convention

Did you find anything about protecting the people living inside and around the site? No?

This is what makes the story interesting.

A Short Interview with The Komodo Island’s Ranger

(Un)lucky for me, I got my period the day I started the trip to Labuan Bajo, and I still on my period the day I visited Komodo Island.

Four forest rangers with wooden sticks and dusty green uniforms were assigned to protect 13 visitors that day: me and my 12 travel mates. The head ranger told us that Komodo could smell blood so anyone with bleeding ovarium and open wound should be wary. That was after he told us that another victim of Komodo has just found lying lifeless in the forest some time ago.

Very comforting. Thank you for that.

Being logical, I decided to stroll near one of the forest rangers during my forest trip. The wooden stick didn’t look promising, the guy looked limpy, but since this guy is still alive, he must have found a way to avoid death by Komodo. So I told him that I was on my period, please protect me.

I’m so proud of my strength and independence, but once in a while, I do know how to act like a damsel in distress.

So we strolled together, and I asked many things about him except for his name (I’m sorry, uncle ranger T-T). I was quite surprised to know that him and his family are living not far from the conservation – in the same island, just behind the hill at the left part of the coast.

Me: Is it safe to live this near to the Komodo?

Uncle ranger: A 5-year-old kid from my village was bitten a week ago. We had to amputate the kid’s hand.

Me: Are there any special rangers protecting the village?

Uncle ranger: No, there aren’t.

Me: Are there… fence? Barrier that protects the village?

Uncle ranger: No, we don’t have fence.

Me: Did anyone place more deers and boars for the Komodo? To give Komodo enough food supplies in order to prevent them from attacking the village?

*I asked this because they said that the rangers made several artificial ponds to invite deers and boars to drink, so Komodo would have a chance to feast on the animal

Uncle ranger: No, we don’t.

Me: Did the government ask the people to move out from the island?

Uncle ranger: No, they did not.

I kept asking all the strategies I could think of in order to protect the safety of the Komodo island’s people. All while seeing a young Komodo the size of a fat cat (uncle ranger said around 4 years old) running through the short grass, three metres from my right leg, not far from the souvenir shop that I planned to visit.

Before that, I saw many deers. Unbothered by human presence.

Uncle ranger: All of the people here aren’t allowed to hunt them (deers), that’s why they are not afraid of us.

Me: So you just live like that? Side by side with Komodo? Sometimes there’s a victim and you’re okay with that?

Uncle ranger: We are told to keep everything as natural as possible. We are okay with that.

We are told to keep everything as natural as possible.

We are okay with that.

Uncle Ranger from the komodo island

The Price of Human Existence

Not far from the coast, the rangers have prepared a spot for tourist to take pictures with living Komodos.

Two adult komodos (20-ish) had been fed until full, and now in the middle of digesting all the food that was given to them. They were lying like a stone, sleeping lazily, unmoving.

But we are told to keep our wariness. Don’t wander too far. Watch your back. Always stand behind a ranger.

My friends were queueing for photo sessions. They were crouching 2 meters from the komodo’s tail, pretending that they are stroking the komodo from behind.

A friend asked me whether I want to take photo with the komodo. I said no. One, because I’m afraid that my bleeding ovarium would be considered as a dessert. Two, because I didn’t think that is the right thing.

Taking pictures of an unmoving Komodo, poking its head to wake it up from its sleep, so you could tell people that you are brave enough to take picture with the wildest animal on earth.

My mom wouldn’t be so happy to see that kind of picture anyway, so I said no. I took a picture of a sleeping komodo instead. There’s no me in the frame.

While waiting for my friends, my mind kept coming back to all the things uncle ranger told me. That part of the consequence of being UNESCO’s world heritage site is preserving the place and the creatures as it is. Humans are part of the menu. That’s how the food chain works in this island.

Humans are part of the menu.

That’s how the food chain works in this island.

And they accept that.

My first instinct was to wonder whether the island people do not know better of their rights. But then I remember the ego of humanity. The mindset that all living things should serve humans. That we as a human should protect our fellow humans.

And that’s why human population was increasing more and more day by day. Tipping the universe’s balance. We become the problem. We pollute, we take, we dominate.

I wonder what uncle ranger and the komodos think of me. Did they laugh at my innocent questions, thinking: look at this human, trying to find a solution when she’s the problem.

What rights that we are talking about, anyway?

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