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As Indonesia promotes its Komodo dragons to tourists, safety standards are questioned.
Komodo dragons are fickle. They don’t like too much water or humidity. In October last year, rangers discovered a nest in which all but one of the 13 eggs had broken. Kefi is not sure of the cause — too much rain perhaps, or not enough incubation — and says rangers still know little about the creatures they’re tasked with protecting.
They do know the dragons are intelligent, and extremely dangerous. The lumbering lizards can grow up to 10 feet in length and weigh 200 pounds. They might look docile lounging by a water hole, but that is how they deceive their victims, said Suprayitno, who works with the park’s police to ensure people abide by regulations against littering, disturbing the lizards and bomb fishing, which destroys marine life in the cerulean seas around Komodo island.
The dragons can also smell prey as far as six miles away, and they sprint in short bursts when attacking. Their miniscule teeth can tear away flesh and grind up bone, but it’s the venom they emit that is deadly.
Rangers tell cautionary tales of tourists being eaten after separating from their group, or of villagers from nearby islands meeting the lizards without protection or knowledge of the dangers they pose. In 2007 one village boy disappeared without a trace.
Most of what the rangers know about the lizards comes from experience or trainings led by zoologists from San Diego and Australia. Sometimes the government holds workshops on park management, Kefi said, but it has done little to provide the services the forestry department needs to keep people safe.
The first aid kits on Komodo and Rinca have little more than bandages and antiseptic, but Komodo bites require antibiotics to prevent infection. The most rangers can do for an injury is wash it with alcohol until victims reach the hospital on the Indonesian island of Bali, an hour-long plane ride to the west.
Rangers tell local officials they’re short staffed and ill-equipped to handle the constant monitoring needed to protect the island and its lizards. Kefi calls the New 7 Wonders campaign a “project” only for the people in Jakarta because, since it began in 2008, the ministry has not bothered to provide any additional support to those working in the field.
When asked about the lack of resources, the deputy district head of the province said the government was “working on it.”