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Saturday, March 4, 2006

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A meeting with a (full) Komodo dragon


Celebrity profile

Name: Komodo dragon
Breed: Varanus komodoensis, the largest monitor lizard
Favorite food: Homo sapiens
"Charm point": none

News photo
Preferred food: Homo sapiens

There are only about 2,500 of these dragons left in the wild, and most of them live on two islands, Komodo and Rinca, in Indonesia. I first learned about the Komodo dragon in the documentary "Ring of Fire," by Lorne and Lawrence Blaire. They had fantastic footage of these dragons eating a goat -- bones and all. I was intrigued and went to Indonesia to meet the dragons myself. I was lucky enough to meet one dragon, who was sunbathing on a rock and agreed to be interviewed for this column.

"So, how big are you?" I asked.

"I am 11 feet long."

"How much do you weigh?"

"500 pounds! I'm full," he said giving me a toothy grin. "I ate a water buffalo this morning."

A water buffalo?

"Oh, you should have seen it -- it was quite a feast! Felling prey is always a joyous occasion, and this time, having bagged such a large one, I was very proud. So I invited 30 dragon friends to join in the feast. What a party!"

"How did you kill something so big?"

"See my long scaly tail? It is very strong. I use it to fell my prey. When we bite an animal, magic bacteria in our saliva enter the wound and kill the animal slowly over a couple of days. While waiting, I send out invitations to the feast. Then I just watch and wait from the sidelines until the animal falls."

"And then what?"

"Surely you have noticed my beautiful talons! With five on each claw, I have 20 to assist me in ripping open the stomach of my prey. Then everyone joins in and we practically inhale the entire corpse!"

"How do you manage to eat the bones too?"

"With our detachable jaws, of course. Formidable, aren't I?" he said, laughing while flicking his yellow forked tongue in and out.

"Quite," I agreed. "What other things do you eat?"

"We are carnivores, so we eat mostly other animals like deer, monkeys, pigs and horses."

"Mostly? What else is there besides other animals. Do you, um, eat people?"

"Leaping lizards -- of course. People are delicious! But also very rare. Humans are considered a delicacy, as we don't come across them often. There are plenty of tourists in the park, but unfortunately, like you, they're always with a guide. Not like the old days when we'd find the odd tourist wandering around by himself. Heh heh heh heh."

"Have you ever eaten a person?"

"No, I've never had the good fortune. But I know other dragons who have. They all say the same thing, "No regrets!" The Swiss are said to be the most delicious, with the French coming in second. It's illegal to eat humans, though, so if there are witnesses, we'd get prosecuted. So it's all done under the table -- or, uh, the dinner table, so to speak. Heh heh heh heh."

"What do humans taste like?"

"Chicken."

"But you dragons eat each other too, don't you?"

"Absolutely. Especially those little baby dragons have to watch out until they're about 2 years old and can fend for themselves. They live up in the trees until then, where us adults can't get to them. The female dragons with eggs also have to be careful."

"I can't believe you guys eat each other. That is so sick!"

"Sick? You humans do some pretty sick things too. You wear animals: animal pelts, snakeskin boots, sharks-tooth necklaces, rabbit-foot key chains. How humiliating for the animal. I don't want to drag-on about this, but although we do eat people for food, we would never accessorize with them afterward.

"And don't even get me started on the illegal wildlife trade. Taking orangutans, apes and parrots out of the forests so you can have them as pets? You call us sick? We happen to be proud that we eat your race. The only way to protect ourselves from you is to eat you.

"In 1915, our island was declared a protected sanctuary. Yet still our habitat is constantly threatened, our numbers have dropped and there is not enough food for us. Alas, we are now an endangered species. I 'prey' to God we can continue to exist."

"What is your favorite movie?" I said, trying to end the interview on a lighter note.

" 'King Kong!' W. Douglas Burden came to Komodo Island in 1926 and was so impressed with us and how we effectively terrorized the villagers living here that he took some of us to New York, helping to inspire the original 'King Kong' movie."

"Wow, really?" I said, fumbling for a pen to get his autograph. But when I looked up, the dragon was gone. Sitting on the rock where he had been was an envelope, "Invitation: wild pig feast."

Listen to the live interview at amychavez.blogspot.com


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