We step onto Komodo Island, home of the largest lizards on Earth; the Komodo Dragon. We had seen the dragons previously when we visited Komodo on our honeymoon, but the excitement and anticipation of seeing these incredible beasts hasn’t worn off. We walk from the jetty and through the large entrance welcoming us to Komodo National Park and join our group waiting for a guide to lead us around. The guide gives a well-worn briefing in broken English and tells us a few facts about the dragons. They have a ferocious reputation and are known to hunt in packs. He explains that there are three ways to escape if you find yourself being chased by one. Firstly, to throw whatever food you have on your person in their direction in the hope that you might distract them. Secondly, to run in a zig-zag as they are easily confused and will give up if their meal looks like too much work. We laugh at this as the same strategy is often advised in relation to outrunning saltwater crocodiles but has been shown to be erroneous and potentially fatal. Thirdly, to simply run faster than the person next to you. Everyone laughs at the poorly delivered joke then surreptitiously glance at their neighbours, eyeing them up and down and assessing levels of fitness, potential turns of speed, and general tastiness. A few eyes land on Baz who is a perfect-sized dragon-snack and, being only 18 months old, is easily out-run. Those sizing up our baby visibly relax. Our group has four or five minders who each lean on a large, forked stick; something we don’t remember from our previous visit. The stick of our guide is particularly large and worn smooth and has blood-red paint splattered all over it, like it has actually been used to slay dragons. The guide finishes his briefing by warning that it is not always possible to see the dragons on Komodo and that they only offer “a 50% guarantee” of seeing one. We doubt very much that anyone entering this part of the park will not see a dragon but we heard the exact phrase on our first visit and loved it so much it has entered our everyday vernacular.
We strike out on the trail and spot our first dragon within a few minutes. The guides have met their obligation. The dragon is prehistoric and massive and lays idly in the shade. It is completely flat; legs protruding outwards like it’s been run over by a truck. An eye slowly opens to examine the crowd, its forked tongue flicks a few times, sampling the scents in the air and, finding nothing of interest, resumes its torpor. It certainly doesn’t look like chasing a meal is high on its list of priorities; in fact, it doesn’t look like moving is even an option for this dragon today. The guide continues to dole out facts about nests and dragon babies while the onlookers enthusiastically photograph the lizard from every conceivable angle. A man wanders away from the group to photograph some trees. One of the minders jumps and follows quickly, stick lowered and at the ready, alert, like an ambush is imminent. They certainly take the threat of dragon attack seriously, although there have only been a handful of human fatalities in the past 30 or so years. By the look of the animal we are observing, it would be far more likely that someone would trip and accidentally fall into its mouth than the dragon expend any energy in organising an actual attack.
We leave the beast alone finally and continue along the path. Surprisingly, we walk the whole path and only see one other small animal up a tree, devouring a lizard. Eventually we come out at the café which is situated at the end of the path. Just outside the café lay three huge dragons, resting in the sun. Each of these has adopted the same prostrate position as the first one we saw and, other than the occasional eye opening resentfully at the crowd disturbing their rest, they look to be carved out of stone. We gather around again for another round of photos. Little Baz starts getting restless; it is hot and he has been trapped in his carrier for nearly an hour. We move away from the crowd and the dozing giants and let him free to run and play in the sand. Not five minutes have passed when he starts complaining, pulling at his shorts, distressed. We know what that means but aren’t quite fast enough. A little poo falls out of his shorts and onto the ground in front of the café. We scoop him up and race him to the bathroom inside the café to clean him up, figuring that no one would notice the little pile on the ground which we would clean up after we were finished with Baz.
From the bathroom we hear the sounds of the crowd outside getting louder and more excited. We emerge from the bathroom to see that the crowd has moved away from where the dragons were and has re-formed around the front of the café. People are gasping, the photographic activity has gone through the roof, and the minders are trying desperately to keep the crowd back. We push through the wall of bodies with a rising feeling of panic. There in the middle of the gathered audience is one of the Komodo dragons, up on all fours, walking. The allure of a fresh, human baby-poo has awakened the beast. In shame and horror, we both glance at the ground where we left Baz’s offending article. It is gone. The monster has a gleeful, euphoric look on its face, its long tongue flicking the air triumphantly. We look around the crowd then at the dragon with absolute embarrassment; it glances back at us and seems to give us a little knowing nod, thanking us for the snack. It wanders off, beyond the crowd, to resume its slumber.