Category Archives: Indonesia

The Most Infamous Komodo Dragon Attacks of the Past 10 Years

An 8-year old boy; a group of stranded divers; a celebrity’s husband: Just a few of the recent victims of Komodo dragon attacks

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Mr. Safina, a local guide working at Komodo National Park, took a particular relish in describing the way a Komodo dragon’s strong jaws can snap a man’s leg in two. He’d lived on Rinca – a speck of land off Indonesia’s Flores Island, and one of the five places Komodo dragons reside – his whole life, and he was used to the various horror stories that surfaced every now and then after a tourist wandered off the trail or a kid got ambushed while playing in the bush. Standing in front of an assembly line of water buffalo, deer and wild horse skulls – dragon chow – Mr. Safina laughed while gesturing to a row of little wooden crosses stuck in the nearby mud. On each stick, a date and a foreigner’s name was scrawled in white paint. “Those are tourist graves!” Mr. Safina joked. “No really, they’re actually just baby mangrove markers that tourists bought to restore the forest. Now, are you ready to go see the dragons?”

Like so many other tourists, for me, a trip to Indonesia was not complete without a detour to see the world’s largest lizard in its natural habitat. (Read Brendan Borell’s dispatch from his trip to Komodo Island, as featured in our special “Evotourism” issue of Smithsonian magazine.) In recent years, visitors have increasingly flooded this corner of Indonesia, drawn in by the thrill of brushing close to something wild and dangerous. Dragons are not to be taken lightly: male lizards can grow up to 10 feet long, weigh 150 pounds and eat up to 80 percent of their own body weight in one sitting. Though attacks are exceptionally rare, they do occasionally occur, mostly when a park guard lets his focus slip for a moment, or a villager has a particularly unlucky day.

Here are some of the most infamous attacks, as described by Mr. Safina and corroborated by media reports:


1…A Tragic Playdate

In 2007, a dragon killed an 8-year-old boy on Komodo Island, marking the first fatal attack on a human in 33 years, the Guardian reported. The attack took place in March’s dry season, so rangers speculate that the murderous lizard may have been particularly hungry given that the watering holes – and the prey that gather there – had dried up. The dragon lunged when the boy went behind a bush to use the bathroom, MSNBC writes.

Mr. Safina recalls the boy’s friends – who had been playing together in the scrubland near their village – rushing to get help from their parents. According to the Guardian, the boy’s uncle came running and threw rocks at the lizard until it released his nephew. While the Guardian writes that the boy died from massive bleeding from his torso, Mr. Safina recalls the boy being bitten in half.

In light of the tragedy, park wardens launched an island-wide hunt for the man-eating lizard, though whether or not these efforts produced results remains unclear.

2…Shipwrecked with Dragons 

In 2008, a group of SCUBA divers found themselves swept from waters near their boat by the Flores region’s infamously strong current. After spending 10 hours spinning in the tide, around midnight the group washed up on the beach of what seemed like a deserted island, approximately 25 miles from where their ordeal had begun. Their troubles, however, were far from over. They had found their way to Rinca Island, where an estimate 1,300 dragons live.

The attacks began almost immediately, the Telegraph reports. A relentless lizard repeatedly came at a Swedish woman, who smacked it with her diving weight belt. It chewed at the lead belt while other divers threw rocks at its head, she said, all the while eyeing her bare feet.

For two days and two nights, the traumatized divers contended with dragons and the tropical heat, surviving off of shellfish they scraped from rocks and ate raw. Finally, an Indonesian rescue crew spotted the diver’s orange emergency floats spread out on the rocks. Though in shock, the group rehydrated at the local hospital on Flores Island and celebrated their survival at the town’s Paradise Bar.

kumodo-dragon-on-grass image www.pythonjungle (2)

3…Death in the Garden 

In 2009, 31-year-old Muhamad Anwar set out to gather sugar apples from an orchard on Komodo Island. A misstep that sent him falling from the tree proved to be his undoing. Two Komodo dragons were waiting below, and sprang on Anwar. His neighbors heard the commotion, and ran to his rescue minutes later. By the time they arrived, however, Anwar had already suffered fatal injuries, and was bleeding from bites to his hands, body, legs and neck, the Guardian reports.  Anwar died shortly after the attack, in a clinic on Flores Island.

Other accounts, however, contest some of these details. CNN writes that Anwar – a fisherman – was actually trespassing on the island, and was in an area forbidden for people to enter. This account also reports that Anwar bled to death on the way to the hospital, and was declared dead upon arrival. Even if CNN got this right and Anwar was guilty, however, death by dragon seems an overly steep punishment for eating a bit of forbidden fruit from the garden of Komodo.

Komodo-dragon-on-grass image www.pythonjungle (1)

4…Dragon Under the Desk  

In 2009, Maen, a fellow guide like Mr. Safina, headed to the staff office as he would any other morning. Like all the other buildings on Rinca Island, Maen’s unit sat on stilts, and hungry dragons would often gather below to wait for the occasional food scrap. On this morning, however, Maen sensed that he was not alone. Just settling in at his desk, he looked down. At his sandled feet lay a dragon, peering back up at him.

As it turned out, one of the cleaning crew had left the office door open the night before and the hungry predator had crept in, likely in search of food. Heart pounding, Maen attempted to slowly withdraw his leg from the dragon’s vicinity. But he moved too quickly, cueing the motion-sensitive carnivore to lunge. The dragon chomped down on Maen’s leg, clenching its jaw shut. Maen kicked at the dragon’s neck, then grabbed its jaws with his hands and wrenched its mouth open, slicing open his arm in the process.

Although Maen shouted for help, most of the rangers were in the cafeteria and could not hear his screams. Only one picked up on the noise, and came to investigate.

“I shouted and he came to help me but he didn’t like to come up because the dragon was still moving around,” Maen explained to travel writer Michael Turtle, of Time Travel Turtle. “Then he saw the blood on the floor and he got everyone from the kitchen. All the people come running here, but other dragons follow along as well.”

The dragons – which can smell blood and the scent of death from nearly 6 miles away – followed the crowd. Some rangers fended off the would-be feeding frenzy, while a couple others darted into Maen’s office to help their colleague fight free from his attacker. Maneuvering their injured friend through the pack of dragons waiting outside, they managed to carry him to the island’s dock, where he was rushed to Flores Island’s hospital. The injuries were too much for the small medical center to contend with, however, and Maen wound up being flown to Bali for six hours of emergency treatment and 55 stitches, MSNBC reports. All in all, it took him six months to recover from his brush with the dragon.

Despite the encounter, Maen went back to work, although he only stays indoors now so he does not have to deal directly with the animals. “The dragon, I can’t remember which one, he’s still alive,” he told Turtle. “But I think now he’ll be bigger. If he had a bigger neck then, I couldn’t have hold it open.”

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5…Horror in Hollywood  

Dragon attacks can occur outside of Komodo National Park, too. More than 50 zoos around the world keep the animals as attractions. In 2001, Phil Bronstein, an investigative journalist formerly married to actress Sharon Stone, suffered an unfortunate encounter with a Komodo dragon at the Los Angeles Zoo. Stone had arranged a private visit to the zoo’s dragon pen as a present for her husband, who, according to a Time Magazine interview with Stone, had always wanted to see a Komodo dragon up close. Stone described the incident:

KOMODA DRAGON fibreglass-with-girl image www.pythonjungle (1)

Phil didn’t know where we were going or why we were going there. It was a complete surprise. So we came around the corner and he was like, ‘Oh my god this is so fabulous, I’ve always wanted to see this.’ And the zookeeper said, ‘would you like to go in the cage? It’s very mild mannered. Everybody goes in there. Kids pet him. It’s fine.’

Bronstein accepted the invitation and went into the dragon’s cage with the zoo keeper. The lizard began licking at Bronstein’s white shoes, which the keeper thought must remind the animal of it’s white rat meals. Following the keeper’s advice, Bronstein removed his shoes and socks to avoid tempting the lizard. Then, as he moved into a better position to take a photo with the animal, it lunged.

komodo dragon lizard on ute image

Fibreglass Komodo dragon full size in back of ute pickup

So there was that hideous moment where the three of us… It’s such a break in reality, it’s so inconceivable that it’s happening, but there’s that moment of stillness where you just stare in disbelief. Then Phil screamed and we heard this crunching sound.

KOMODO DRAGON-realistic-fibreglass image

Bronstein managed to pin the lizard’s head down with his other foot, but the animal began jerking back and forth in an attempt to maul and eat its prey. Children gathered around the cage’s glass wall, Stone recalled, taking in the spectacle.

Bronstein managed to wrench the dragon’s jaw’s open and throw it from his foot, then dragged himself out of the cage as the lizard came at him from behind. The top half of Bronstein’s foot was gone, Stone said, and he was covered in scratches from the animal’s lunges at his back. Bronstein survived the incident and did not press charges, though Stone complained that the zoo allegedly continued to allow close-up encounters with dangerous animals following the incident.


Henry Sapiecha


Reptiles and Amphibians Attenborough BBC documentary video-2

Published on Jun 22, 2015

In the opening sequence, an aerial camera zooms in on a solitary Komodo dragon from afar. This, states Attenborough, is the last place on Earth still ruled by reptiles. Though they may seem primitive, reptiles and amphibians still thrive thanks to diverse survival strategies. In Venezuela, a pebble toad evades a tarantula by free-falling down a steep rock face. The basilisk, nicknamed the Jesus Christ lizard, can literally run on water and the Brazilian pygmy gecko is so light it does not break the surface. Reptiles are cold-blooded, and some have developed unusual strategies to absorb heat. Namaqua chameleons darken the skin of the side of their body facing the sun. A male red-sided garter snake masquerades as a female using fake pheromones, attracting rival males which help raise its body temperature and thus its chance of breeding. Malagasy collared lizards conceal their eggs by burying them, but egg-eating hognose snakes stake out their favourite laying sites. Niue Island sea kraits lay theirs in a chamber only accessible via an underwater tunnel. Other reptiles guard their eggs. Horned lizards drive off predators, but larger adversaries such as coachwhip snakes prompt a different reaction – the lizard plays dead. Komodo dragons prey on water buffalo in the dry season. They stalk a buffalo for three weeks as it slowly succumbs to a toxic bite, then strip the carcass in four hours. In Life on Location, the Komodo film crew tell of the harrowing experience of filming the dragon hunt.[27] (6)

Henry Sapiecha

This leaf-strumming green reptile thinks it’s Jimi ‘Lizard’ Hendrix

** NO USE WITHOUT BYLINE ADITYA PERMANA / MERCURY PRESS **    PIC BY ADITYA PERMANA / MERCURY PRESS - (PICTURED: A LIZARD HOLDING A LEAD LIKE A GUITAR) This is the real-life THIN LIZARD as the reptile strums a guitar fashioned from a leaf. The forest dragon lizard was spotted in the unusual pose by professional photographer Aditya Permana in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The 33-year-old caught the comical snap earlier this week and watched the critter for more than an hour before it began practicing its chords...SEE MERCURY COPY

** NO USE WITHOUT BYLINE ADITYA PERMANA / MERCURY PRESS ** PIC BY ADITYA PERMANA / MERCURY PRESS – (PICTURED: A LIZARD HOLDING A LEAD LIKE A GUITAR) This is the real-life THIN LIZARD as the reptile strums a guitar fashioned from a leaf. The forest dragon lizard was spotted in the unusual pose by professional photographer Aditya Permana in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The 33-year-old caught the comical snap earlier this week and watched the critter for more than an hour before it began practicing its chords…SEE MERCURY COPY

Is this lizard trying to emulate the axe-wielding heroics of Jimi Hendrix?

Or does he prefer Jimmy Page?

Either way, this forest dragon lizard looked like a true guitar hero as he strummed a leaf in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

The amazing snap was captured by photographer Aditya Permana, who watched the creature for more than an hour as it reclined on a log and presumably dreamt of headlining Woodstock.

Describing the moment he took the incredible photo, Aditya said: ‘I did not directly photograph the lizard at first, until the lizards feel calm and comfortable around me.

‘I noticed it looked like it was playing a guitar – and it didn’t move at all.’

Henry Sapiecha


KingCobra_restaurant image 0001-600x400 www.pythonjungle (2)

Jakarta’s north is where the city’s colonial past rubs shoulders with its less-than-reputable present. Away from the ultra-modern mega-malls, leftover Dutch architecture pokes a decaying head from between the one-stop debauchery shops selling skin and drugs under the guise of hotels, nightclubs, and spas. If there was ever an appropriate place to eat a deadly snake, this would be it.

Along the streets in a too-casual-for-comfort manner, small cages of blue plywood and chicken wire are all that separate pedestrians from the hissing black cobras. Diners sit next to the cages as if the animals were tanked lobsters in a Maine seafood shack.

While the streets are littered with small satay stands, it’s the King Cobra Mangga Besar restaurant that’s cultivated a reputation as the best place to eat one of the reptiles. The family-run shop opened in 1965 and has since hatched four additional king cobra restaurants in the city, with a fifth on the way.

In more than a year of working as a journalist in Jakarta, a trip to the restaurant has always felt like a terrifying inevitability. My phobia of snakes is primal and buried in the most basic part of my brain. They chase me in my nightmares and, for reasons I can’t explain, this makes me need to be close to them.

I step into the tight 10-table establishment. The grill is working overtime. White smoke has completely filled the dining room, and it’s difficult for my eyes to scan the tiled floor for escaped hors d’oeuvres.

Maria, the long-time owner, obviously has a routine when it comes to curious white people walking into her restaurant holding cameras. She barks some words in Bahasa to her daughter Olvin, who shows me towards the back room where the snakes are kept.

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A glass partition separates the caged animals from the main eatery. Olvin’s already stepped through the swinging door, and I can feel every cell in my body pulling me towards the exit. I take a deep breath and exhale in time with my step into the snake room.

Olvin, along with the only non-family employee, begins to pull out various serpents. Some are emerald with narrow, pointed heads; others are the splotched shades of army fatigues. The two smile madly as they spread reptile after reptile the distance of their arms and hold deadly heads closer to my lens than I’d prefer.

My hands are shaking like mad. Adrenaline is thumping in my ears, and I’m doing my best to pretend like this is just another day. Inches to my right I can hear the black cobras spitting at me on the other side of a single pane of glass. It slowly dawns on me that these two are risking their lives, and I have no intention of eating what they have on display. I make a mental note to buy one of the other snake-derived products they sell in the front of the house as a thank you for their risk.

The only snakes that don’t come out of their cages are the kings. According to Maria, they’re just too dangerous to take out for fun. She says the only people who regularly fork over the roughly $250 for them are Chinese businessmen who come to Jakarta on short stays for work.

KingCobra_restaurant image 0001-600x400 www.pythonjungle (1)

Looking at the pent animals, I’m okay with letting them sit. One particularly worrisome fellow is deathly still, head tilted back with his eyes fixed on the one place a hand must go in if he’s to go out.

Maria says they’ve been doing business with the same snake catchers for years. Only when her daughter was first learning to handle the poisonous serpents did she fear for her family’s well-being. Bites are rare, but when they happen the skin is cut at the point of contact and as much blood as possible is drained from the area.

One small factoid about the restaurant pushes me to my emotional breaking point. Since 1965 only one king cobra’s ever escaped. It made it to the center of the eatery before staff grabbed hold and returned it to a cage. Taking a look at the wire enclosures, it’s not a sense of security that comes over me but the dreaded realization that they’re long overdue for another such incident. I immediately have a vision of myself covered in escaped serpents who know my position on the top of the food chain is at best conditional.

My reaction is Olympic-gold swift. I grab a snake-skin wallet as a thank you for amusing my phobias and toss a wad of cash I assume to be sufficient towards the register. Instinct trumps dignity as my eyes see the door and I bolt like a dine-and-dasher for the parking lot



Henry Sapiecha