In early May 2017 it was reported in Indonesian media that a tourist from Singapore was bitten by a komodo dragon in the Komodo National Park, a famous park - located within the Lesser Sunda Islands in the eastern part of Indonesia - that was declared a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO as well as selected as one of the New7Wonders of Nature. It is a popular tourist destination for both local and foreign tourists as they can observe the komodo dragon, a large lizard that has a dangerous venomous bite and fearsome reputation.
The Singaporean tourist was quickly rushed to a medical center by local residents and therefore managed to survive the attack. He was lucky. Although there are few biting incidents (reportedly the case of the Singaporean tourist was the first komodo-related biting incident in five years), a handful of local residents have been killed by the giant lizard in the 2000s. In this park the animals are not caged, hence a beautiful opportunity to see the komodo dragon in its natural habitat but it also implies risks and some discipline from tourists in order to avoid these risks. Here we present the key tips for tourists.
Always Use a Local Guide (Ranger)
You are allowed to travel across the park by yourself (that is what the Singaporean tourist did). However, it is much safer to use the service and expertise of a local (and official) guide. Although the lizard has bad vision, its sense of smell is very powerful and therefore it usually has detected you before you have had a chance to detect him. Moreover, the komodo dragon is good at hiding in bushes or in the shade below stilt houses. The young komodo dragons can in fact climb trees. Actually, they enjoy taking a rest in the shady areas of trees. A guide is more alert about these matters (and always brings a special long stick with him to fight off an attack). So, always stay close to the guide or ranger.
Don't Go into the Park Alone
You should never visit the park by yourself, but always go with a group of friends or people (and a guide/ranger) because when the komodo dragon goes hunting for a meal he prefers to select a target that is by itself (goat, deer, or human) as it increases the lizard's chance of success. It is also important to stay on the park's official trekking paths. If you leave these paths then you run the risk of coming too close to a (camouflaged) komodo dragon.
Keep Your Distance
The Singaporean tourist was bitten because he came too close to the animal on his quest to take pictures of the komodo dragon eating a meal that was handed by local residents (possible a goat or chicken). Although the local residents warned him about keeping his distance (because the komodo does not like to be disturbed when it is eating), the tourist ignored this advice, a foolish mistake. When you (and your guide) are observing the komodos from a safe distance then it is also important not to make any sudden movements that can scare the lizard. This can ignite an attack.
Don't Run Straight, Run in a Zigzag Pattern and Find a Stilted House
Although you should avoid sudden movements such as running, in the case of an actual attack (especially if there is no ranger to protect you with his stick) you may feel the sudden urge to run as fast as you can. Unfortunately, even though the komodo dragon looks slow and somewhat lazy, they are in fact fast runners and can easily reach a pace of 18 kilometer per hour. Fortunately, the komodo dragon can only run straight ahead. Thus if you run in a zigzag pattern then the dragon will rapidly give up on the chase because it is an awkward motion to him. If you see a (traditional wooden) stilted house, immediately climb up the stairs because the komodo cannot do that. But remember these lizards like to enjoy the shade underneath these houses and when it sees a human approaching rapidly (running) it may go in combat-mode. It is not wise to climb into a tree because the younger komodo dragons can still reach you.
Don't Make Too Much Noise
Despite bad vision, the komodo dragon has a very well developed sense of smell and a good hearing. If you make a lot of noise then it can either invite a hungry lizard or it can disturb lizards and they may attack because they feel threatened.
Don't Wear Perfume & No Menstruating Women
The komodo dragon has a very strong sense of smell and therefore it is advised not to use perfume. Women who are menstruating are not allowed to go see the komodo dragons because the lizards can smell the slightest bit of blood and will be very attracted by it as they perceive it as their prey.