At Komodo National Park, its dragons are of huge scientific interest, mainly for their evolutionary implications, writes Andrew Drummond Law
I CAN hear a blood-curdling cry for help and terrifying grunting noises coming from nearby.
Attackers. And a victim. I cannot see what it is, but from the sounds it is making, it is in the final throes of its life.
It is the noise of something’s final seconds of life on earth, complemented with the excited and violent grunting noises of more than one killer.
The only thing I can be certain of is my primal fear, the hairs on my neck standing up, warning me of imminent and close-by danger.
Unnaturally I run towards the danger. The park ranger has a two-metre long staff, just in case. It is hot and exhausting work searching for Komodo dragons in the savannah-like landscape of their namesake’s volcanic island.
After taking a few wrong turns, running along the dusty trails and thorny bush land, we find the freshly slaughtered remains of a deer that the dragons had been feeding on.
Within minutes it had been stripped of all flesh, its rib cage exposed to the air, all of its innards devoured hungrily.
Its emptied-out carcass is covered in a moving bottle-blue layer, a noisy swarm of flies already feeding on the blood-spattered leftovers.
I can hear distant rustling in the bushes as the killer dragons disappear into the savannah, in search of their next meal, hunting as a pack.
PREHISTORIC KILLING MACHINE
The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in the world. There are more than 5,700 dragons left in Komodo National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site.
The volcanic islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar make up the national park, the only place in the world where they may be found.
They can grow up to three metres long and weigh as much as 65kg. With an easily expandable stomach they can eat up to 80 per cent of their own body weight. And when under threat, they can throw up their stomach contents, reducing their weight to flee a threat more quickly.
With an infectious bite that can kill up to a week later, or its razor sharp teeth that can tear apart its prey in an instant, you have a terrifying killing machine on your hands.
The lizard can also run at speeds as fast as 30km per hour. That’s more than double an average man’s running speed.
So if you’re slow, you are in big trouble, as one Singaporean recently found out while trying to take photographs.
In the first attack of the past five years, despite being warned not to get too close, the man was severely bitten on his left leg.
Local reports highlight the man had not used an official guide, and avoided designated safe areas, staying with locals to save on his costs.
The irony is that a recent medical discovery could mean that Komodo dragons help in the treatment of hard to heal wounds.
The lizard’s blood contains a compound that could be used in the treatment of infected wounds.
The lizard’s saliva contains more than 80 strains of bacteria that are known to cause sepsis and blood poisoning, yet somehow do not affect the dragon itself.
According to a recent BBC report, medical scientists at George Mason University in the US have created a synthetic compound based on a molecule in their blood that has anti-microbial activity.
It helped the healing process of infected wounds in mice. The study suggests the compound could potentially be used as a future antibiotic.
Especially important as the need for new antibiotics types grows as modern-day bacteria become increasingly resistant to existing types of antibiotic.
Komodo National Park is a world heritage site for a reason. It is a conservation area with unparalleled terrestrial and marine ecosystems, covering a total area of 2,200 square kilometres.
Its dragons are of huge scientific interest, mainly for their evolutionary implications, says Unesco.
But with this most recent discovery, perhaps the island’s most famous inhabitants hold the key to saving people’s lives from life-threatening bacteria?
If perhaps only for selfish reasons, because they may help to save human lives in future, the conservation of endangered or rare species must be taken seriously.