National Geographic : 1936 Sep
A MODERN DRAGON HUNT ON KOMODO and no large ones came down to my bait, though several watched all day at what they considered a safe distance. Every 'now and then I could spy a big head raised out of the long grass, and once or twice a dragon would come crawling down almost into the cleared space which I had carefully prepared for photography. But always at the last minute they would lose courage and make off to cover before I could get a satisfactory picture. However, the second day things were different. The goat carcass, by this time so nauseous to me, acted as a charm for them. The small dragons became fearless and seldom was the carcass without one gnawing at it. The big dragons, throwing all caution to the winds, rushed down with surprising agility and speed, tearing and dragging large pieces of the meat away from the carcass to be eaten at leisure out of sight in the long grass. That dragon lizards have a keen sense of smell I had ample occasion to observe. In the valley where I watched them the wind was continually changing, and they used to pick up my scent at once even when they had their heads to leeward of the over powering stench of the carrion. In an in stant all of them would take fright and disappear. All the time I kept myself carefully hid den from their sight, but, as other observers had reported that these lizards are stone deaf, I did not trouble to keep quiet. UNDISTURBED BY A SHOTGUN'S ROAR In fact, wishing to test this theory of deafness, I discharged a shotgun over their heads at a range of a dozen yards on more than one occasion. Neither this nor the rattling of plateholders nor the human voice seemed to make any impression on them, whereas they would notice any move ment in an instant and make off. That they are deaf to some sounds seems beyond dispute, but it is interesting to note that the specimens at the zoo very definitely hear the sound of the key turn ing in the lock of their cage. When the keeper goes to feed them, their attention is immediately arrested by this sound. The baby dragons were highly inquisi tive. One, measuring about three to four feet, came through my covering hedge of branches and sat staring at me at an arm's length for some time. Another climbed a tree close by and, stretching itself along a branch, lay watching me for many hours. Dragon lizards appear to make no sound other than a low hissing at each other when in competition for the meat spoils. When drawn to a carcass by the powerful odor, they seem to be almost licking their lips in anticipation, owing to their curious habit of shooting in and out their long forked tongues. REPTILES NEVER VENTURED TO ATTACK In their wild state they are said to be dangerous, but I cannot support this state ment. I spent days watching, at close range, dragons of all sizes up to about twelve feet in length. I had no protection other than the small hedge of cut branches and leaves. At no time did the creatures show any signs of attacking me. It is difficult to say how many dragons I saw, but they are undoubtedly very nu merous on Komodo. I have a few feet of cinema showing four large ones on the carcass at the same time, and many photo graphs showing three. We had no opportunity of seeing the reptiles killing or eating their natural food. Our only evidence as to their ordinary diet was obtained when one, which had been caught in a trap, in its excitement regurgi tated first the chunks of rotten meat it had swallowed and then a large unbroken turtle egg. Wild pigs and deer are plentiful on Komodo, and we had no reason to doubt the report that the dragon lizards catch the small ones. The natives would not go near the haunts of the dragons after dark and seemed in considerable fear of them even in daylight. For the homeward journey we put our specimens in strong crates with beveled slats on one face. Unfortunately, our car penter sought to lighten the lids by in serting a panel of wire netting. When the yacht was some days out on the homeward journey, one of the dragons burst its way through the netting, and, as no trace of it was ever found on the ship, presumably it jumped overboard. The other two were safely delivered to the zoo and, in addition, our cameras had cap tured numerous others that are still free to partake of their odoriferous banquets on the hills and beaches of Komodo.