May 26, 2009—Recent Komodo dragon attacks on Indonesians—including a park ranger who shows his Komodo scars—have convinced some villagers that the man-size lizards are becoming more aggressive.
© 2009 National Geographic (AP)
The Komodo dragon - standing proud in its natural habitat.
These endangered reptiles can only be found on an archipelago of tropical islands in southeastern Indonesiaan area that today forms the Komodo National Park.
Researchers estimate that between 3,000 and 5,000 Komodo dragons live in the wild.
Conservationists from the Komodo Survival Program are helping the national park to monitor the Komodo dragons and measure their growth rate.
They can grow up to 10-feet long and weigh up to about 300 .
SOUNDBITE: (Indonesian) Ahmad Fanani, Komodo Survival Programme Conservationist: "We are helping the national park to monitor population of the Komodo dragons and measure their growth rate. We hope our activity can assist the park management in dealing with the dragon's habitat and population."
Komodo dragons regularly consume carrion, but recently, its been determined that Komodo dragons produce a toxic venom.
When bitten, a prey animal generally dies within a week, and then Komodo dragons consume the carcass.
Komodos are the stuff of legend, but despite their fiery reputation they have co-existed with humans in relative peace for thousands of years - until now.
Two people have been killed in as many years - a young boy and a fisherman.
Others have been badly wounded after being charged unprovoked.
This park ranger points out the jagged gashes across his arm and ankle, still swollen three months after he was attacked by a Komodo inside his office hut in the park.
He has spent most of his adult life working with Komodos and says he has never seen anything like it.
SOUNDBITE: (Indonesian) Main (no surname available), attacked park ranger: "In my experience, the Komodo dragons are friendly to us, but sometimes we get unlucky and they can attack us."
But villagers on the islands disagree.
They say the dragons have become increasingly aggressive toward humans and are demanding to know why.
SOUNDBITE: (Indonesian) Haji Amin, Villager "How could this happen? How could the dragons get so aggressive? We are concerned by this. We have lived alongside Komodo dragons for decades without being attacked. They never used to attack us while walking in the forest alone or attack our children. We hope these dragon attacks stop."
The rangers insist the giant lizards have always been dangerous and should be treated as such, however tame they may appear.
Four people have been killed in the last 35 years and at least eight injured in just over a decade.
Even some park rangers are nervous. Muhamad Saleh has worked with the animals more than 20 years.
SOUNDBITE: (Indonesian) Muhammad Saleh, Park Ranger: "Yes I am more alert. In the past, sometimes I took some risks and played foolishly with Komodo dragons, but these days I won't risk it anymore."
Villagers have been startled by the recent deaths, but they also know that losing the Komodo would equate to losing many incomes.
SOUNDBITE: (Indonesian) Ramang, Villager "We are truly connected to the Komodo dragons. We hope the dragons do not become extinct. It would be better if we can find ways to increase the dragon population, because we see them as our assets."
But for the villagers, solving the Komodo problem is the priority.