Searching for Komodo Dragons on Rinca Island
Rinca is the second biggest island of Komodo National Park, closer to Labuan Bajo in Flores, and the landscape is greener and hillier than that of Komodo. Labuan Bajo is the usual jumping off point for visits to both islands reached by boat only. Day trips take two hours each way for Rica only which pretty much shoots the entire day. Join a group tour if your budget won’t allow chartering a private boat.
The same routine, information and fees apply for both islands; guides, conservation fee, entrance fee, camera fees. There are no set dragon-feeding places on Rinca and finding dragons in the bush isn’t easy. The guides know the spots, dragon nests (females dig huge burrows to lay their eggs which they guard until they hatch), and whatever wildlife is around. Dragons also inhabit Pulau Padar and coastal areas of northwestern Flores but I’ve never heard of anyone going to these places.
The Sea Star moored off Rinca Island overnight. The crew served breakfast early in the morning, Captain weighed anchor and motored a short distance away to the dock at Rinca. No dinghy today, and only one other boat was tied to the dock. Good deal!
A member of the crew accompanied us again on a five-minute walk from the dock to the Rinca National Park Office for formalities. Today’s Komodo Dragon number one was sitting under a tree along the way, so still that I thought it was a carved Komodo dragon put there to greet visitors. We stood around and waited with another couple from Toronto, Canada until officials arrived to open the office and assign guides. Both Komodo and Rinca have PHKA camps. The camps have large wooden cabins on stilts with balconies, restaurants, but you are only allowed to stay for one night.
Rinca rangers do not feed the dragons who come out of the forest when they smell food. The Komodo dragon’s long forked tongues give it a keen sense of smell. They can seek out prey from up to 8 kilometers/5 miles away in a favorable wind. Their tongues test the air, taste, and smell. Komodo Dragons are solitary, coming together only to breed and eat. Lured by odors from the kitchen, six Komodos were sitting in the area this morning. New guide Armand said they’d lurk here for most of the day before heading back into the forest to hunt.
Armand grabbed his forked stick of choice (they use the forked end to push the dragon’s head away), went through the usual welcome spiel, and the three of us headed in the direction for the “moderate” walk, usually taken during rainy season, with a brief stop at the bathrooms. Steve almost had heart failure when he walked out of the bathroom, and saw another Komodo sitting there. Komodos can run as fast a 20 kilometers/12.3 miles an hour in brief sprints, a lot faster than we could run, and he had a right to be frightened. They are scary looking critters with powerful hind quarters and nasty claws.
The trail was very muddy, and revealed nothing but one or two dragon nests. No baby Komodos today. Armand said they are usually seen in trees on sunny afternoons. Mating begins between May and August, and approximately 20 eggs are laid in big nesting holes in September. The eggs are incubated for 7-8 months, hatching in April (when we were here).
It is difficult to spot Komodos during rainy season because the foliage is so high. We slogged back to the main camp where a seventh dragon had joined the other six by the kitchen, and posed for photographs a safe distance away. Armand kept saying, “Get closer. Go ahead, get closer.” No way, Armand. Not with several dragons flicking that long tongue out, sensing prey (us), and looking in our direction.
Armand came with us for the walk back to the boat, past the same Komodo “greeter” still sitting under its tree, and then spotted another Komodo perfectly concealed in brush next to the trail. We count “him” as our only “wild dragon” sighting since all the others were out in the open, giving us a total of 10 Komodo Dragons today. With 1,300 dragons on Rinca Island, there were still plenty left to see.
One hundred visitors were on Rinca Island yesterday and several boats were heading in with more tourists as we motored out on the way to Labuan Bajo, Flores. Bye, bye, dragons.