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The Dragons Are Not Pleased

Not sure how I missed Yaroslov Trofimov's Wall Street Journal piece about bloodthirsty Komodo dragons on the warpath in Indonesia, but it's pretty wild. Seems the island inhabitants of Kampung Komodo are none-too-pleased with do-gooder environmentalists who, as part of a $10 million conservation project, recently banned a bunch of local customs—including deer-hunting and offering up sacrificial goats—that were thought to appease the ten-foot Komodo dragons. In truth, the ban on deer hunting was intended to help preserve the dragons' food supply. Either way, the dragons are now turning on their two-legged neighbors:

A year ago, a 9-year-old named Mansur was one such victim. The boy went to answer the call of nature behind a bush near his home in Kampung Komodo. In broad daylight, as terrified relatives looked on, a dragon lunged from his hideout, took a bite of the boy's stomach and chest, and started crushing his skull.

"We threw branches and stones to drive him away, but the dragon was crazed with blood, and just wouldn't let go," says the boy's father, Jamain, who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name.

Unlike in the U.S. and many other Western countries, park rangers here don't routinely put down animals that develop a taste for human flesh.

A few months later, Jamain's neighbor Mustaming Kiswanto, a 38-year-old who makes a living selling dragon woodcarvings to tourists, and whose son had been bitten by a dragon, was attacked by another giant lizard after falling asleep. In June, five European divers, stranded in an isolated part of the park, said they successfully fended off an aggressive dragon by throwing their weight belts at it.

Not good. Though it does seem doubtful that the lizards are attacking because they're annoyed by the lack of goat sacrifices. More likely, the population of the island has swelled over the last few decades, space is getting limited, and more confrontations are inevitable. (Unlike other parts of Indonesia, where dragons are hurtling toward extinction, Komodo has strong taboos against harming the beasts.) In any case, here's grisly footage of a Komodo dragon fixing itself a mid-afternoon snack:


Photo credit: Jim McClear

--Bradford Plumer