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Close Encounters With a Komodo
National Geographic ^ | 2/12 | Alexa Keefe

Posted on 02/13/2014 8:57:47 AM PST by nickcarraway

Heading to the remote Indonesian island of Rinca to photograph a modern-day dinosaur was all Stefano Unterthiner’s idea. A zoologist as well as a photographer, he says: “I have always been fascinated by working with the Komodo dragon. [The Komodo] is full of mystery.” That, coupled with the fact that the giant lizard is a threatened species, its habitat limited to a few islands in the Indonesian archipelago, “I thought it would be a perfect story for National Geographic.”

For close to seven weeks, Unterthiner photographed these giant reptiles—males can grow up to 9.9 feet and weigh over 200 pounds—in the picturesque, sparsely inhabited wilderness of Komodo National Park. “When you see the dragon at close range in that landscape, with the little hills and the high grass, forest in the background, no humans,” he says, “you have the feeling of jumping back in time.”

“Even if they look a bit ugly—a bit like a monster—at a certain point they seem pretty beautiful because they are completely unusual,” he says.

Although captivated by the sight of the dragon moving through its prehistoric environment, Unterthiner was nervous. He has been around his share of wild animals, but what he found disconcerting about the Komodo was not knowing what they were thinking. “They don’t look at you, and then they look at you for a while and you don’t understand what they are doing,” Unterthiner says. They are reptiles after all, not unlike snakes. Slow-moving and “sleepy,” as Unterthiner describes them, the dragons can be unpredictably fast when triggered by sudden movements, vibrations, or the scent of blood—and they bite.

“They really shocked me when they were feeding. Whenever they smell blood they are incredibly fast and aggressive. I photographed two dragons eating a goat…they completely gutted [it] in less than three minutes. The bones, the horns, they ate everything.”

After a week or so of tagging along with researchers studying the animals, Unterthiner slowly began to feel more comfortable. His confidence bolstered by the company of a seasoned ranger named Pà Matieus, he dared to get closer and closer, until at times he was working within of one to three feet of them. Unless the shot was worth it though, either beautiful light or engaging behavior, he wouldn’t take the risk of being so close, but rather would shoot from a distance.

Near the end of the assignment, once he’d gotten his shots and was feeling relaxed, he took a risk without even realizing it. Photographing a dragon from a tree, he decided he wanted to get it from another angle. “When I jumped down [from the tree], my wife saw him lunge towards me and in the exact moment I took a step back, he bit at the air where I just was. Then I just moved a few steps away and the dragon stopped. It’s rare they pursue the ‘prey.’ Usually they hunt by quick and short attacks, mostly playing with surprise.”

After that, Unterthiner put his camera down for a few minutes, and then started shooting again.


TOPICS: Outdoors; Pets/Animals; Weird Stuff
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 02/13/2014 8:57:47 AM PST by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway
The female Komodo Dragon weighs in at around 150 lbs.


2 posted on 02/13/2014 9:02:25 AM PST by Slyfox (We want our pre-existing HEALTH INSURANCE back!)
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To: nickcarraway

I have heard that a bite from these creatures can easily be fatal as their mouths are filled with bacteria which are toxic to humans.


3 posted on 02/13/2014 9:03:35 AM PST by AEMILIUS PAULUS (It is a shame that when these people give a riot)
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To: Slyfox

Valerie Jarrett looks like Kramer in that episode where he spent too much time in the tanning bed, then doused himself in butter.


4 posted on 02/13/2014 9:04:46 AM PST by Disambiguator
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To: nickcarraway
I took a ferry once from Singapore to Bataam,a nearby Indonesian island.As you pull in to the docks on Bataam you see a huge billboard....must have been at least 30ft by 20ft...featuring a photo of the komodo and welcoming everyone to the island.Spooky ain't the word for it...I almost needed a change of underwear.
5 posted on 02/13/2014 9:15:46 AM PST by Gay State Conservative (Obama: "I can do whatever I want")
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To: Slyfox
the Komodo Dragon, has a "inner" (nature/right) beauty..
the other (thing/left), is really (gruesomely) ugly..

6 posted on 02/13/2014 9:20:01 AM PST by skinkinthegrass (The end move in politics is always to pick up a gun..0'Caligula / 0'Reid / 0'Pelosi)
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To: nickcarraway

I had a Komodo. It was real comfortable to wear. Kind of like a bathrobe.


7 posted on 02/13/2014 9:35:09 AM PST by blueunicorn6 ("A crack shot and a good dancer")
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To: nickcarraway

Didn’t some starlet’s husband get bitten on the toe by a komodo some time back? They were being given a personal zoo tour, or something, and apparently were expecting professional courtesy from the lizard. I mean the reptile. You know, the cold-blooded one. Oh...never mind.


8 posted on 02/13/2014 9:41:24 AM PST by Rinnwald
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To: Rinnwald

No, it wasn’t a starlet, it was Sharon Stone. She bought it for him as a gift. (Probably a very Columbo way of killing him)


9 posted on 02/13/2014 9:44:03 AM PST by nickcarraway
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To: nickcarraway

Yeah, I looked it up. It was Sharon Stone’s then husband Phil Bronstein, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. Fortunately, the lizard survived. I mean, well, both of them survived.


10 posted on 02/13/2014 9:50:46 AM PST by Rinnwald
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To: blueunicorn6

I don’t know what you are talking about. Around here we sit on them. And when they get stopped up we have to use a plunger.


11 posted on 02/13/2014 10:02:39 AM PST by Drawsing (Fools show their annoyance at once, the prudent man overlooks an insult. Proverbs 12:16)
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To: nickcarraway

When I lived in the Philippines, they had monitor lizards there that were smaller than Komodo dragons, but still pretty big. I remember seeing one that looked 8-10 feet long, and have heard they could get bigger.

My friend’s father ran the JEST school at Cubi Point, and he showed his son how to make traps, which...he showed me how to make. I thought it was quite ingenious...everything was done with a machete, bamboo and parachute cord.

We used a large piece of bamboo with one end open and a small rectangular slot in the top. You have to position the bamboo on the ground next to a small, flexible sapling.

You get some sticks and drive them at a really sharp angle towards the midline on both sides of the big piece of bamboo, then use parachute cord to secure the bamboo to the sticks, and hence, to the ground. (this was the hardest part to do)

You then cut a little tab of bamboo with a lip on the flat edge, and what it does is block the closed end of the bamboo aft of the little slot you cut in it.

Take a piece of the parachute cord, make a loose slipnot big enough to just fit around the bamboo open end, and attach the other end to the small sapling which you bend over. You take another piece of the parachute cord, tie it to the little tab of bamboo that has the lip on it, then tie the other end to the length of the cord attached to the tree.

You bend the tree down holding the tab, and insert it in the slot in the big piece of bamboo with the lip or shelf of the tab facing the open end of the bamboo tube after putting some enticing thing that you think the lizards will eat (we used some raw hamburger and some of Mom’s lettuce, because we didn’t know what they ate...:) then seated the little tab in the bamboo slot and placed the slipknot around the neck of the bamboo tube with the hamburger and lettuce in it.

That was the hardest part. We couldn’t get the right tension on the sapling without having it rip the bamboo off of the ground. Eventually after a bunch of tries, we used longer sharpened sticks at angles which held it to the ground under tension from the sapling.

As the lizard poked its head into the open end of the bamboo to get the food, it would knock the little tab out of the way, the tab would dislodge through the slot, and the sapling straightening out will bring the slipknot tight around the lizard’s neck.

We waited patiently for hours, and no lizard came. So we left it and went home. We went out there the next morning, and lo and behold, there was a small monitor lizard about four feet long dangling there motionless by its neck!

I was pretty sure it was dead, but when we got closer, it started whipping around like mad! This kid was fearless and he went up and grabbed the lizard just in front of the hind legs and tied a rope around the abdomen. He said his dad told him he could direct the lizard by having one person grab the slipknot end and someone else grab the rope around the abdomen, but in practice it was too freaky. It was like trying to do that with an ornery cat. We ended up cutting it loose.

He caught another one he ended up keeping it in a garbage can for a few days...


12 posted on 02/13/2014 10:44:12 AM PST by rlmorel ("A nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral." A. Hamilton)
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