Senin, 27 Juli 2009

Voting for the Dragons


Komodo National Park Nominated for New 7 Wonders of Nature

Komodo Island is famous as home to the komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), a fierce creature with a prehistoric appearance, tough hide, and sharp claws. In 1980, the Indonesian government designated it as a national park in order to protect the komodo dragon and its habitat. In 1986, UNESCO designated it as a biosphere preserve. And in 1991, the national park was officially declared a world heritage site.

This year, Komodo National Park has been nominated as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, representing Indonesia in the national park category. This selection process is being conducted by the New 7 Wonders Foundation in an effort to mobilize participation by the world community to support documentation and conservation of the wonders created by nature and humankind on this planet.

Komodo National Park is a strong contender in this competition. It’s the ideal home for around 2,500 giant lizards, commonly called komodo dragons. It extends over 1,817 square kilometers of land and sea, comprising two large islands, Komodo and Rinca, the small islands of Padar, Gili Motang, and Kode, and many other smaller islands, such as those in the Sape strait beween the islands of Flores and Sumbawa. The terrain includes savanna, mangrove forest, grasslands and beaches, and the seas are an enchanting turqoise.

The komodo dragon is a unique creature, believed to be a direct descendant of an even larger lizard species (Megalania presca) that lived in Java or Australia 30,000 years ago. Komodo dragons can be more than three meters long and weigh 70 to 160 kilograms.
Their large size is apparently the result of island gigantism; the lack of carnivorous mammals on the islands has caused the lizards to become huge. They are the chief predator, dominating their ecosystem. Nevertheless, they are endangered.

Komodo National Park is also an excellent tourism destination for diving. Enthusiasts can access the diving spots by luxury yacht or on simple sailboats owned by local dive operators. The islands offer dramatic landscapes and a wealth of maritime assets such as coral reefs, mangroves, seaweed, sea grass, and over 1000 fish species, 385 species of reef coral, 70 species of sponge, 10 species of dolphins, large tortoises, sharks, and mantas.


Exploring the Wonders

Arriving at Labuan Bajo, the chief city of West Manggarai district, I had only four hours to visit Komodo National Park. Obviously, more time would be better to fully appreciate its beauty, but I still managed to get some satisfaction from my short visit.

From the dock at Labuan Bajo, a speedboat took us over to Komodo Island in around 30 minutes. Islands covered with dry savanna dominated this passage; I saw colors one doesn’t usually see on an ocean journey. The pink sand beaches never fail to impress visitors heading toward Komodo Island. I was told that the sand is pink because it is mixed with fine grains from damaged red coral reefs. Tourists usually use these beaches for diving or snorkeling to observe the beauties of the coral reefs and the many fishes that dwell therein.

The pink beaches are very close to Komodo Island. Our friends from PT Putri Naga Komodo (PNK) were ready and waiting to take me and the group from our international cruise operator to explore the surrounding area and, hopefully, catch a glimpse of the charismatic and fearsome dragons.

All visitors to Komodo Island and the other islands within Komodo National Park must be accompanied by a local forest ranger throughout their stay. This is essential for the visitors’ own safety. The rangers and guides also provide important information about the places being visited.

From among the various trekking options, I and a friend from Singapore chose a short hike of around 40 minutes, while the others chose a medium-length route. They would have preferred a longer, more challenging hike, but time constraints prevented this.

Setting out from the PNK home base, my friend and I were accompanied by four rangers, each carrying a long wooden pole with a Y-shaped end. “This shape resembles a komodo’s tongue, and is useful to ward off any komodos that might try to approach or attack us,” a ranger told us; they really care about visitors’ safety.

About 300 meters along, we found many birds perched in the trees, and as we headed into denser forest, we saw a group of deer enjoying the shade.

Throughout our hike, all of us were constantly scanning every corner and byway that we passed, hoping to see a komodo emerging from the forest, and not simply to assuage our curiosity. My friend and I were actually a bit scared by this prospect, since we’d heard tales of tourists being killed by attacking komodos.

komodo-island“That’s why you must never go hiking here without a local escort. Often tourists are so excited about the idea of seeing a komodo that they go off by themselves. It’s very dangerous to do so, especially if you meet a dragon that happens to be hungry,” said a ranger, repeating the message he always conveys to the visitors he escorts.

He reminded us that as well as being accompanied by a forest ranger, visitors must maintain a safe distance if they encounter a komodo and must never wave any objects such as knapsacks, as doing so could atract the dragon’s attention and motivate it to attack.

Komodos have extraordinary capabilities. They can see 300 meters and can smell a rotting animal corpse up to 10 kilometers away. They can also run up to 20 km per hour, swim, dive, and climb trees.

“We’re almost back to the base,” our PNK guide told us. My friend and I were resigned to not having seen a komodo. “I guess we’re just not lucky,” I remarked to the PNK personnel who were fixing lunch.

I and my friend from Singapore assumed that the other groups had encountered komodos, because they had taken longer hikes and therefore had a better chance. I climbed the stairs to the PNK restaurant to find a place to rest. All buildings on Komodo Island have this platform design, for safety’s sake.

Half an hour later, the other groups arrived; they, too, had seen no dragons, but had enjoyed seeing the other animal species on the island.

Eventually, we decided to have lunch. As we were enjoying our meal, we heard a scuffling noise coming from below where we were eating. It turned out there was a komodo right below us. We immediately grabbed our cameras and headed to where the noise was coming from. The rangers readied themselves to protect us, while trying to coax the komodo to come out.

As we gazed at the creature, which seemed calm but still showed fierceness in its eyes, someone shouted, “Look, there’s another komodo!” And indeed, another one was coming from another direction.


“Look over there – what kind of animal is that?” We thought it might be yet another komodo.

The creature loped slowly from the beach; as it came closer, the PNK people said, “It’s a boar.”

The rangers told us that the komodo that created such an impression during my visit was a medium-sized one and had eaten fairly recently; that’s why it seemed so calm. This komodo appeared quite unexpectedly; I was very lucky. I hope that one day I can visit the other islands in Komodo National Park and see more of these creatures, who truly deserve to be one of the wonders of the world.

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