Dispatch, Bali: In search of the Komodo dragon

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This Komodo Dragon was strolling the beach on Komodo Island shortly after our Star Clipper tour group arrived.
Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

Cruise editor Tom Stieghorst is in Bali for a Star Clippers cruise near the Indonesian island. His third dispatch follows.

One highlight of this seven-night itinerary in Indonesia aboard the Star Clipper was our stop at Komodo Island, home of the giant monitor lizard known as the Komodo dragon.

We were warned that since our July visit corresponded with mating season, we might have a hard time seeing any dragons. But we were lucky. Not 15 minutes after being deposited by tender at the dock, we were alerted by our excited guides to the appearance of a dragon out for a beach stroll.

The distinctly low-slung profile and lumbering, deliberate gait of the Komodo dragon reminded me of another large reptile that I see at home in the Florida Everglades -- the alligator.

Like alligators, the Komodo dragons are slow-moving but capable of short bursts of speed when chasing pray. Like alligators they are swimmers. Unlike alligators they are good tree climbers.

Bottom line is that there's not much of an escape if a Komodo dragon decides to come after you.

To prevent that, tourists can only visit Komodo National Park with local guides who are equipped with long forked sticks to pin the dragon by the neck should it get too close for comfort.

Dragons are aggressive meat eaters. In May, a Singaporean tourist without a guide who was snapping photos of Komodos feeding didn't see the one that came up behind him and bit his leg.

Komodo bites need fairly quick treatment, due to the combination of an anticoagulant and bacteria in the dragon's saliva.

According to our guide, about 1,300 dragons live on Komodo Island, with another 1,000 to 1,500 on a handful of nearby Indonesian islands. On our 90-minute guided hike, we saw only one other one, a juvenile that clambered up a hill as we passed. It wasn't too easy to spot or photograph.

This Komodo Dragon is about 7 feet long and estimated by guides to be about 25 years old.
Photo Credit: TW photo by Tom Stieghorst

Although it was a beautiful, temperate day, the tour would have been a disappointment without a dragon sighting, but we did spot our lizard, a 25-year-old about 7 feet long, colored a mottled, coppery-gray.

Another tour party said they saw six dragons of various sizes on their hike. So it was a happy ship after our morning visit to Komodo Island.

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