There has been endless speculation over the years regarding the world's largest lizard―the Komodo dragon. Most of it surrounds the fact that it is found in only one part of the world. Queries were raised questioning the very existence of these creatures. Until recently, there was precious little that was known about the lizard. A couple of years ago it got into the news for the wrong reasons―a Komodo dragon managed to bite popular Hollywood actress Sharon Stone's husband, Phil Bronstein. He was immediately provided with medical aid to prevent any further damage.
Komodo dragons (Varanus komodensis) are found on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rintja, Gili, Mota, Owadi Sami Padar, and Flores. Compared to the lush verdant islands in the surrounding areas, Komodo and Rintja are odd. They are dry, hot, and relatively barren. All these islands form part of the Nusa Tenggara island chain. Komodo is west of Flores, east of Sumbawa, and north of Sumba. The only ways to access this island is to reach there by boat or use a helicopter to land on the helipad specially developed for President Suharto. As of today, the helipad option is a preserve for celebrities only.
It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that scientists all over the world acknowledged their presence. Males are normally 8.5 feet in length and the females are a foot smaller. But there have been instances when 10 feet komodos have been found. They are normally a sandy brown with dark markings, although color may vary. They have a long neck and the tail longer than the body. The feet have strong, sharp claws. They weigh around 200 pounds. The average lifespan is 20 years. They are excellent swimmers are known to move from island to island. On these islands there are no natural predators of the animal, and almost anything that moves is prey. They are predominantly diurnal creatures.
Their favorite prey include deer, goat, wild boar, and even water buffalo. They also do not have any problem eating carrion. Zoologists are however astonished with the tendency of the Komodo to eat each other. Komodo island is definitely a very unsafe place for the young Komodo dragon who does not have the strength nor the guile to defend itself from the bigger ones. This is one of the reasons that the young spend most of their time on tree tops, eating insects till they acquire some girth. Their eyesight is extremely sharp, and this aids in locating prey.
The modus operandi employed is to hunt is very interesting. In spite of its size and imposing presence, the animal can cover short distances very quickly, almost at the speed of a dog. But it cannot chase a prey over large distances, as they tend to tire easily. This obstacle is overcome once they manage to take a bite of the prey, the Komodo's entire aim is to bite the prey e.g. deer, pig while the chase is on. The secret lies in its saliva that contains more than 52 deadly strains of bacteria. Once the prey is bitten, the bacteria infects the blood stream and death usually occurs within 1-2 days. It then has the ability to track down dead prey over a distance of 4 miles. There is no animal on the islands who have the ability or strength to out wrestle the dragon.
Females will lay about 28 eggs at a time when ready for nesting. The current population seems relatively stable at about 5,000 animals, yet scientists are concerned that only 350 of them are breeding females. This may be a normal sex ratio―little is known about the species. The dragons concentrated distribution makes them highly susceptible to natural or human-caused events, such as storms, fire, or disease. A few years ago there were real concerns regarding the survival of the dragon, but initiatives taken by the Indonesian government have given the dragon a new lease of life. Commercial trade in specimens or skins is illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Komodos have the propensity to have ferocious fights with each other, where it is very common to draw blood. But scientists have observed that the deadly bacteria in their blood do not seem to infect the blood in the injured dragon. As a result, the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School has commissioned research, where it has been discovered that two molecules in the dragon's blood have antibiotic properties, one somewhat weak, the other stronger.
The Komodo is not just any animal, it is a piece of history, one of the rare few to walk the face of the earth with the dinosaurs. They must be preserved at any cost.