How to See the Komodo Dragons in an Ethical Fashion

Published on: July 7, 2021

Komodo Dragons have fascinated visitors to the beautiful islands of Komodo and Rinca for hundreds of years, but now for the first time, we are faced with a ‘tourism threat’ to the largest lizards on the planet and any ethical tour operator needs to be careful in how they both promote and organise Komodo and Rinca tours. Development on the gateway coastal town of Labuhan Bajo has developed at a fast pace in the last few years and now tourists expect to take a fast speedboat from here and visit Komodo and its dragons in a half-day excursion. The problem with this approach is that it encourages ‘day-trippers’ rather than longer stay arrivals, who come to appreciate not just the Komodo Dragons, but the wider beauty of Komodo National park between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores. Some of the snorkelling found around these islands is world-class and a slow boat journey on a liveaboard with a local crew is what we recommend.

Del and Sheila’s Komodo Dragon adventure

Off to Komodo Island.  On the four-hour boat trip, we saw flying fishes, dolphins, sea eagles and even a manta ray,  breaching.  Well, Del did but I did see the splash when it landed. The most stunning thing for me was the iridescent blue plankton like so many fairy lights under the water.

The Komodo guides (ours was named Yan) are armed with a pointy stick, the latest technical development of which turns out to be a forked one.  That made me feel a lot safer.  The advice, if chased, is to run away zig-zag style which apparently disorientates them.  Yeah – right!  Interesting fact – Komodo dragons produce white poo.

The island is quite big (approx 40km2) and is home to about 1500 dragons.

After just a few minutes trekking we came across our first two. A female guarding her eggs, and an enormous male, strutting near a water hole.  He must have been at least 3 metres long. Real Jurassic Park stuff.  I was immediately fourth in line behind the guide, Fuji and Del.  Nothing prepares you for the sheer scale of these monsters. During the rest of the walk up to a high vantage point, we saw a golden oriole and white cockatoos.  At one rest, a rustling in the undergrowth was deemed to be a wild boar but neither guide seemed keen to get a closer view.  Fuji tried to divert us back to the ranger station on the way but we wanted to see the view.  He turned out not to be the fittest person in the world, slightly overweight and a smoker.  At the station, we saw three more dragons.  They are attracted there by the smell of the staff cooking.  Much daylight between Sheila and the beasties.  Del, being made of sterner stuff, and putting his faith in pointy sticks, had a much closer encounter and took some really impressive shots.  He did afterwards admit to being slightly nervous being eyeball to eyeball with one as it ambled towards him.  What people forget is that these animals can run very fast and a bite can be fatal.

Lots of  Komodo Islanders selling wooden objects.  I had a quick look then retired to rest under a tree watching the deer on the beach! Del chatted to the traders and bought a few bits and pieces.  When giving a price, before Del could try his negotiating skills, each one said, ‘but you can haggle’ which rather weakened their position. How sweet.  Back on the boat, for lunch and a swim.  This is the life.

Rinca Island Komodo Dragon tour

Rinca Island Komodo Dragon tour

Rinca Island is home to some 1200 more dragons and more pointy sticks. The only ones we saw here, apart from a fleeting glimpse of one rushing across a path, were by the ranger station, but we did see several deer and a water buffalo, all prey for the monsters.  Fuji struggled even more on the climb to this viewing point.  Told him he must give up the fags.  Guide Anton agreed.

Another glorious sail, lunch and brilliant snorkelling stop on the way back to base.  The captain’s mate administered lemon juice on my small jellyfish sting.  Charming chap.

The last morning we saw a kingfisher glide across in front of the beachside restaurant.  A delightful setting but could have done without the ants in the shower.  On the return to the airport, we called in at some famous limestone caves.  Amazing stalagmite and stalactite formations, and lots of bats.  We were lucky to see a hand-sized spider which is very rare.  Asking the guide (who was, by the way, wearing a WHO tee shirt) if it was venomous he replied that no-one had ever been bitten so they didn’t know.  This was after Del asked me to put my hand near it to scale the picture!

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About the Author

Allan Blanchard

Allan Blanchard is the founder of Wildlife Trails, a biologist, and conservationist. He studied animal behaviour and has a passion for using real time data to pick the ideal time to see endangered flagship species. Whether that be Snow Leopards in India, Gorillas in Uganda, or Jaguars in Brazil. 27 years of continuous recces to the best safari destinations in the world, is both a privilege and a huge advantage when curating award winning wildlife holidays for Wildlife Trails.