On Komodo Island, our guide, armed with a forked stick, led us inland through the hot and dry monsoon forest surrounded by open savannah grasslands. Timor deer and wild boar darted nervously through the prickly palms; prey to the dragons that have no enemies apart from their own kind. The reason why these primeval apex predators have survived unmolested for so long is attributed to the fact that the treacherous whirlpools and rip currents in the seas around Komodo and Rinca have ensured their isolated endurance in a habitat that is free from invaders.
Heading along the banks of a dry riverbed, we were accompanied by the sound of bird song and chirruping cicadas. There was a sweet smell that we couldn’t identify; we observed strange yellow snails clinging to the bushes, sulphur-crested cockatoos, a water buffalo at a drinking hole, butterflies, jungle chickens, and a swarm of bees hanging in an angry mass from the bough of a tree.
Nevertheless, to see dragons was our objective and we soon found one under a thorn tree, guarding her nest from predators, which are usually other dragons. A scale-covered monitor with spiked claws, an armour-clad body, a snake-like head, and fierce jaws from which flicked a long yellow forked tongue. Two metres in length, her menacing beady eyes regarded us as she stretched her neck, replenishing the folds in her thick loose skin. We were lucky to spot two more on the trail; the most dangerous predatory lizards in existence. We had no desire to get too close but it was a true privilege to see them in the wild.
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