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Komodo Dragons Kill Fisherman, Show Increasing Violence Toward Humans

March 25, 2009 04:30 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The death of an Indonesian fisherman is one example of the increasingly frequent attacks on humans by Komodo dragons; villagers blame policies by Western environmentalists for the creatures’ violence, but there may be more to the story.

Fisherman Latest Victim of Komodo Dragon Attacks

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The fisherman, Muhamad Anwar, was killed while on the restricted island of Komodo in Komodo national park. The fisherman was on the island looking for sugar apples. He apparently fell from a tree, was attacked and bitten by two Komodo dragons, and later died in a clinic on a neighboring island.

The island is restricted because of its large Komodo dragon population; there are thought to be only about 4000 Komodo dragons in the wild today. Bites from the animals can be deadly because of infection caused by toxic bacteria in their saliva.

Indonesian villagers say that there have been increasing attacks in recent years. In 2007 a Komodo dragon attacked and killed an 8-year-old boy who was urinating behind a bush in the eastern part of the country. Heru Rudiharto, a national park spokesman, said at the time that it was the first fatal attack by one of the animals in 33 years. “Perhaps the lizards’ natural prey has been decreased because we are entering the dry season and there has been too much deer hunting,” he said.

One of the most well-known attacks occured in 2001, when Phil Bronstein, who was at that time the executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, was attacked by a 10-foot Komodo dragon at a zoo in Los Angeles. Bronstein, whose visit there had been arranged by his then-wife Sharon Stone, suffered significant damage to his foot in the attack.

Context: Are Komodo dragons more violent, or just closer?

Traditionally, Komodo dragons were considered to be reincarnations of fellow kinsfolk. “When I was growing up, I felt the dragons were my family,” said Hajji Faisal, a 55-year-old Indonesian, to the Journal. “But today the dragons are angry with us, and see us as enemies.”

The villagers say that recent killings and increasingly common close encounters with the creatures are to be blamed on conservation authorities, who have prevented the villagers’ traditional sacrifices of other animals to the dragons. For hundreds of years, it was the local custom to feed the dragons by leaving them deer parts or goats tied to posts, but environmental policies have banned deer hunting and discouraged goat sacrifices.

But park authorities say that the real culprit is Indonesia’s population growth, which is pushing villages further inland closer to the dragons’ habitat. “The smell of the village—goats, chicken, drying fish—all this invites the dragons,” says Vinsensius Latief, a national park chief for Komodo Island. “And if the dragons can’t grab the animals, they will bite the villagers.”

Komodo dragons, which are the world’s largest lizards, live on only a few remote islands in eastern Indonesia. In addition to the occasional human, they usually feed on buffalo and deer. Many of them live in Komodo National Park, where there are about 2,500 of the dragons and a population of 4,000 humans.

Opinion & Analysis: ‘Should We Really be Scared of the Komodo Dragon?’

While the dragons can be “brutal killers” who can move at speeds up to 15 miles per hour and can smell their prey from miles away, “the truth is that Komodos rarely kill people,” says Alastair Fothergill of Britain’s Daily Mail.

John Vidal of The Guardian recounts his encounter with three of the animals as they were feeding on a live buffalo and says that they are more terrifying than some believe: “I have seen hell, and it is indisputably on Rinca Island in Indonesia. This Komodo dragon-infested spot is where three British divers who got caught in a rip tide washed up last week. Far from being ‘misunderstood’ reptiles who only ‘occasionally’ attack humans, as my G2 colleague Jon Henley described them afterwards, the Rinca dragons engage in what must be the vilest animal practices ever witnessed by man.”

Video: Living with Komodo dragons

Reference: Indonesia travel guide

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