Reader's Poll: Komodo Dragon Rampages

For centuries local villagers who lived around what is now Komodo National Park in Indonesia fed slaughtered animals to their neighbors, giant Komodo dragons. The locals believe that the dragons are the reincarnation of their ancestors and townsfolk, and would leave offerings of dead meat at the jungle's edge to keep the massive predators at bay. About a decade ago, however, they were forced to stop by their own government working with the American non-profit, the Nature Conservancy. Now they're blaming these groups for a recent spate of Komodo dragon attacks (including the death by bone-smashing of a nine year-old boy last year) and the dragons' venturing further and further into civilian areas.

Aunt Marion? Is that you?

Do yourselves all a favor and read Yaroslov Trofimov's well written article, When Good Lizards Go Bad:Komodo Dragons Take Violent Turn, from yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

Then you tell us... Do you think the forced discontinuation of the centuries-old practice of feeding Komodo dragons has actually done more to hurt them and the humans that co-inhabit the island than help them?

More on Komodo dragons below the fold...

Komodo dragons are the largest species of lizard alive today, reaching up to ten feet in length. They inhabit just a handful of islands in central Indonesia, and their populations have been decimated by human encroachment and their popularity as zoo animals. Subsisting mostly on carrion, the dragons can also be fearsome predators, taking down water buffalo, birds, snakes and once in a while, humans. Their bite has a large concentration of toxic bacteria in it, making their bite particularly dangerous. When hunting they often rely on a single nip and then wait for the prey to die of blood poisoning before consuming it. While eating, Komodo dragons take time to crush the bones of their prey, whether it's dead or alive, by smashing it against rocks or just crunching down on it with their powerful jaws, in order to facilitate digestion. That's so weird! I do the same thing when I'm eating human!

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Many societies have a superstitious fear where, if they do not placate an entity with sacrifices, they will face its wrath. I don't know the particulars, but this is one case where that fear could conceivably not be mere superstition.

Wait - so 10 years ago they stopped killing Dragon's (oh and coincidently stopped feeding them) The story left this part out. Now the population of Dragons is a lot higher and coincidently again the population of humans is also a lot higher... Shucks ya think there might be an issue or two more than there used to be?

It has to be dealt with and by the people there, but no I don't think the people feeding the dragons or not had a lot to do with things. Better management meant mroe dragons. Human population growth meant more humans. All in same area. That means more incidents.

Well, wait until a dozen or more children are attacked, killed and eaten and then, with the help of a large-bore rifle, the problem will solve itself in a couple of days.

By vanderleun (not verified) on 26 Aug 2008 #permalink

My dad has a long fluoro light above his back gate. Its always on, because everyone comes and goes at all hours of the night. It also happens to be right near the dogs water bucket, and the pond (untreated spa, anyway). It didn't take the frog people long to realise this insect goldmine - they all line up along the light, picking off insects all night long. Sometimes the big ones sit on the little ones, so the little ones migrate to the rose branches hanging next to the light. He has some seriously fat frogs...

One day the light blew, and dad didn't have time to get a new one for a while (living on a farm, its a 2 hour trip to decent shopping). Even though the light was out, and there wasn't any insects anymore, dad's little handout generation of frogs still lined themselves up along the light, waiting, and looking pretty confused! When they eventually disappeared after a few weeks, it was because winter set in. I really don't know how long they would have waited for the fluoro tube to be replaced in good weather.

The point of that little story was that perhaps the locals have accidentally done a similar thing with their komodo's. These lizards have pretty huge lifespans, and they've learnt to use and perhaps come to expect and rely on the donations from the villagers. Although feeding wild animals often ends in disaster, its an important part of the locals religion and they've been doing it so long that the impact on the dragons ability to survive alone has probably been done anyway. Perhaps the environmental agencies working in the area should be looking at working with the locals to supplement the komodo's diet a little bit, as far away from villages as possible? Just my 2c :)

I saw a komodo dragon recently at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Humongous. The video they show of kd's in action is pretty cool, too. A real beasty beast.

It seems to me that the conservationists are looking at the humans in the situation as outsiders to the ecosystem, as if the people just moved there last week.

If this tradition has been going on for decades or hundreds of years and was effective for most of that time, then it is probably just as necessary for the dragons' survival as the people by this point. Notice that the people, besides not being allowed to leave out the sacrifices, also aren't allowed to hunt the deer in the park anymore, which led to a population surge in the deer, and thus a surge in the dragons, too. Now the dragons are more aggressive because they have more competition with others of their species for survival, and a soft, pink human is an easy alternative to almost anything else. Humans are the equivalent of a bag of Taco Bell to most carnivores.

Which reminds me, I was at the Lowry Park in Tampa zoo a few years back, watching their big dragon sunning himself on a rock. He was absolutely still, and separated from me by a thick pane of glass, so he was only about six feet away. He only moved when a small child toddled up to the glass to peer at him. I was astounded to see that not only did he look towards her, but his eye, which had been dilated as if he were 'staring off into space,' contracted when he was looking at the little girl. Then the head slowly came around and the tongue started going in and out much more quickly. Nothing more exciting happened than that because the little girl wandered off (apparently oblivious to this little drama) but it certainly left an impression on me!

Jenbug, I have likewise noticed that the animals in my local zoo seem fascinated by my slightly-autistic son! I have wondered if his behavior is just so different from the typical human behavior these animals get paraded in front of them every day that they eyeball him to see what his deal is. ;) One day he picked up this Erianthus plume and started waving it around like a parade-leader near to the meercat enclosure. They wigged out!!! All their sentries were brought to bear, until they finally (I guess) decided he wasn't a threat. Even so, they watched him closely! Likewise, our rhinoceros iguanas seem to view him as a threat-- they did that bobbing up and down thing that they do. The tigers, on the other hand, seem to view him as easy prey and stalk him from the other side of the fence. It was very creepy.

By Melissa G (not verified) on 12 Sep 2008 #permalink

My youngest son, who isn't autistic, but has a distinctive way of walking, has always been observed by komodo dragons as "meat" walking. The first time I noticed this was at the Audobon zoo, when my youngest was about 2. However, the dragons at the NW Florida Zoo and at the Atlanta zoo, also have viewed him as tasty (even at age 7).

The people, besides not being allowed to leave out the sacrifices, also aren't allowed to hunt the deer in the park anymore, which led to a population surge in the deer, and thus a surge in the dragons, too.

Well, wait until a dozen or more children are attacked, killed and eaten and then, with the help of a large-bore rifle, the problem will solve itself in a couple of days.