You’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and go against the recommendations of your tour guide to stay close and not venture off alone. What’s the worse that could happen? I mean you just had to pee. What could possibly go wrong in that short period of time?
In this Komodo Dragon Survival Guide, you’ll learn how to prepare for and how to survive a komodo dragon attack.
Komodo dragons are some of the more formidable reptiles on Earth. They are large, getting up to about 10 feet in length and sometimes weighing as much as 300 pounds, and have powerful jaws that they use to take down prey.
The most troubling aspect of a komodo dragon bite isn’t necessarily the teeth or the jaw strength though: it’s the venomous cocktail in the mouth that spreads through the body and slows down, and then kills the dragon’s victims. Preparedness and emergency response to wounds inflicted by these animals is pretty similar to how you should react when attacked by any other.
Unfortunately, in the case of these big lizards, you’ve also got to account for the environment where they live and the deadly venom in their mouths, which makes them exceptionally dangerous.
As your doing your business in a patch of overgrown savanna grass, you catch the prowling gaze of a set of crystal-blue eyes encased in thick grayish scales. At that moment you are transported back through time to a bygone era where dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Maybe you adjust your glasses a bit to make sure you’re seeing correctly. Sure enough, you’re standing meters away from a full-grown adult male Komodo dragon lurking in the shade of a Jackalberry tree. The hair on the back of your neck raises as a bead of sweat forms on your forehead. You feel like a deer staring into approaching ominous headlights. You freeze.
If only you had listened to your instructor and stayed with the group. Now they are out of eyesight, and you can only hear their faint footsteps far-off down the trail. This was supposed to be your vacation, now you’re experiencing an existential crisis facing your own mortality head-on.
You take a slight step backward, but when you do, the great lizard notices and takes a menacing step forward with a confident flick of its forked tongue. What are you going to do? How do you survive a run-in with a komodo dragon?
Komodo Dragon Basics
Before we plan our escape route, we should probably learn a thing or two about our adversary. Also known as Varanus Komodoensis, these great scaled beasts are members of the monitor lizard family known as Varanidae. Komodo dragons are the largest living lizards in the world. They can reach lengths of up to 10 feet (3 meters) and weigh up to a whopping 400 lbs.
Their bodies are covered in thick, dense, armor-like bone plates called osteoderms. Their bodies are muscular and stout with their stubby legs ending in razor-sharp claws. They come equipped with a robust tail that it makes resourceful use of when taking down a kill or engaged in battle.
Where do they live?
They are natives of Indonesia, isolating themselves to four islands all within the renowned Komodo National park. The islands of Komodo, Gili Montang, Gili Dasami, Flores and Rinca are their savanna forest homes.
As they are geographically isolated and human meddling has impacted their environments and food chain, they have dropped in numbers significantly in the last 50 years. 2,405 Komodo Dragons are estimated to live mostly in this small cluster of islands leaving them to be classified as an endangered species.
Are they dinosaurs?
Ever see Jurassic Park? Your chances of surviving a dinosaur attack are quite grim. Good news though, although they look a lot like dinosaurs, they actually are relatively new to the animal kingdom. Archaeological evidence suggests that they evolved around 1 million years ago. Isolated to island life, they became the kings and queens of their domain. Since there were no other apex predators on these islands they continued to grow in size until they became the giants that they are today.
Venom or bacteria?
Dirty mouth? Contrary to popular opinion which states that they inject their prey with crippling mouth bacteria as a defense mechanism, Komodos are actually venomous. Their mouths contain glands that secrete toxic proteins that act as an anti-coagulant and paralytic, potentially capable of incapacitating an unfortunate victim.
Hopefully, You Won’t Need This Guide
Now that you know the basics and have the answers to some questions, I hope you’ll never have to recall any of this information about these giant lizards.
Luckily, for those who may be worried about running into one of these monster lizards, they aren’t likely to be found in your backyard. Komodo dragons aren’t classified as endangered, but they are in a “vulnerable” population and live primarily on islands with tropical forest climates. In the off chance, you come upon one in the wild, it’s important to know what to do if you’re attacked by them because they can be very deadly.
The greatest key to survival in any emergency situation is preparedness. Any time you venture forth into the wild, make sure you have everything you may need in case that something goes wrong. Keep a handheld radio with you, rations, and water for any time you may get stuck in one place, a first aid kit, and navigation tools including a map and a compass.
It’s ideal to have a guide with you in areas you’ve never explored, as well. Even in familiar territory, it’s best to have a buddy to help you out in case of an emergency. Emergencies always seem to come about when people least expect them.
The Best Defense is Avoidance
It may seem obvious to some, but it needs to be said when talking about dangerous wildlife: the best way to make sure you survive in the wilderness is to avoid a run-in with a predator in the first place. It can be difficult to avoid certain animals like the komodo dragon, however, because they like to lounge near water and among rocks where they’re camouflaged and hard to see.
If you stumble upon one unexpectedly, the safest bet is to try to slowly back away and find another route. Their considerable size means you need to be sure you’re far away, as their striking distance is likely to be much further than you’d expect.
They Aren’t Aggressive, But They Might be Hungry
Komodo dragons aren’t known for being particularly aggressive. They will usually take little notice of a human passing by, especially if they have a good supply of food and prey in their area.
If they are pestered or aggravated however, they might get feisty and bite at an unwary explorer. Another factor that puts people at risk is the availability of prey. If they haven’t eaten recently and they’re exceptionally hungry when you come in contact, they might think you’re food.
They will eat almost anything, and while this doesn’t normally include humans, it could. They’re known to take down large prey like water buffalo, pigs, or sometimes even each other.
Surviving An Attack
So now that we’ve gotten a refresher of the Komodo dragon basics, what should you do if you are unlucky enough to come face to face with one? Remember that ill-advised detour off the path that the instructor warned us against? Oh, that’s right, you just had to pee. What could go wrong?
The good news. If you come across a Komodo dragon, more than likely you will survive. Statistics are in your favor here. Only several human fatalities have ever been reported do to a Komodo Dragon attack and non-fatal attacks have only numbered a couple of dozen.
The bad news is that very few people ever encounter Komodo dragons, given their low population and geographically isolated home turf. If you come across one and it’s hungry, it’s still going to look at you as a possible food source or at least a potential threat.
No Sudden Movements
Like most large animals that can break your legs with one strike, it’s not a good idea to make any sudden movements if you’re in sight of them. Sudden movements make most wild animals instantly defensive, which also means instantly aggressive.
Keep still and assess the situation. Making any sudden movements will trigger the Komodo Dragon’s hunting instincts. You don’t want to look like fleeing prey. If you do move, make slow, calculated footsteps backward but do not turn your back to the lizard.
Komodo Dragons are solitary creatures, so it’s unlikely that there are more in the area unless there is a bloody kill nearby. It’s not going to hurt to take a peek just in case to ensure that you’re only up against one.
Consider Your Tools
Your main priority is keeping distance between you and the dragon. If there is an easily accessible stick beside you, slowly pick it up but keep it low and to your side so you don’t appear intimidating. This stick can be used to push away the dragon if it comes near you or in an active attack situation, it can potentially be used as a weapon.
A rock might also be a handy tool if you’re anticipating a tussle. The disadvantage of rock is its size. The stick gives you distance whereas the rock will have to be used as a projectile. The last thing you want is to get any of your limbs close to their razor-sharp inward-facing serrated teeth. Hopefully, you have a good aim.
It should go without saying, that if you are armed already your chances of winning in a battle are higher. If all you have is a knife, again you’re left with worse off chances of getting within biting distance. A firearm is your best bet.
The last thing you want to do is harm the Komodo Dragon. Might I remind you of its endangered status? If you were to kill a Komodo dragon, you would be facing poaching charges, not to mention you’d be further comprising the survival of the species. So play nice even if they don’t.
Don’t Try to Run
Similar to what we talked about in the Bear Survival Guide, when faced with a Grizzly bear, for example, you can’t run away from them. You run and you die.
If a komodo dragon notices you and thinks you look like dinner, you’re not likely to get away very easily. They can run up to 20 kilometers per hour (much faster than you’d think by looking at them), can climb trees exceptionally well, and can swim like an athlete. Running is an option, but it’s not likely to go your way. The fact that they can both swim and climb means you lose out on the chance to use the terrain to get out of their reach.
If You Must Engage
Let’s say you weren’t able to slip away or climb a tree. Your main priority is to not get bit. The second that your flesh touches their teeth and your blood flows, you’re done for. The scent of blood triggers their primal instincts and once that’s been turned on, they won’t be satiated until they’ve had a meal.
You still may be able to run to safety if you are injured, but now you’ve been infected with their venom. This nasty bite quickly causes your blood to stop clotting which puts you at risk for bleeding out. You could quickly lose consciousness or go into shock.
If you have to fight back, make sure that you use your stick or rock to make a direct and hard blow to the dragons head. A hard hit between the eyes can stun it long enough for you to make some distance. It’s an apex predator, so it’s not used to something successfully fighting back.
What to Expect if You’re Bitten
If you sustain a bite from a komodo and manage to get away, you may count yourself extremely lucky. Their jaws aren’t easy to escape. Aside from the massive gash on your body that you’ll notice, you’ve also got to worry about the venom.
A komodo dragon’s venom is stored in glands inside its mouth. The venom is a combination of several problematic compounds and bacteria that enter the bloodstream and cause lowered blood pressure, puts the victim into shock, and prevents the blood from clotting.
As it spreads through the bloodstream, you will grow weaker and more delirious while the animal is likely still stalking you, waiting for you to collapse.
What to Do if You’re Bitten
1. The first thing you’ll have to do is a getaway. This is obviously easier said than done, especially with a massive, bleeding wound and the effects of shock. If you don’t get to a safe place as quickly as possible, however, you may end up a hearty snack for the reptile. It’s important to remember that venom is making its way through your body at this time, and overexertion will make the venom’s trip to your heart and through your limbs much easier.
2. When you’re safe, or if you were unable to get away immediately, you need to call for help. If you’ve got someone with you, it would be ideal if they start calling for help right away, as you’re making it out of immediate danger. Use your cell phone or hand radio to contact a nearby station where help may be waiting or a hospital. Considering the area you’re likely to be in, a guide or wildland patrol person might be closer by than a hospital.
3. Provide your location to whoever you contact, and then stay put unless told otherwise. Try to have your precise location to give them, meaning coordinates and distance/direction from nearby landmarks. It may be cliche to say, but unless you absolutely have to, it’s best to stay where you are while waiting for help to arrive.
4. Try to bandage your wound or otherwise stop the bleeding. There isn’t anything you can do on your own to stop the spread of the venom once you’ve been bitten, but you can try to stop the bleeding. The venom is trying to kill you, but so is the loss of blood. Depending on what part of your body was wounded, it could be difficult to elevate the area. If you can elevate it and raise the limb above your heart, it can slow down the flow of blood and therefore reduce the bleeding. If you have a good first aid kit on hand, it should have bandages and gauze which you can use to wrap the wound. If you haven’t got bandages on hand, tearing apart some clothing into strips, then using them like you would a bandage is better than nothing.
I don’t care what you see on T.V. It’s best to avoid tourniquets in this scenario.
I would never recommend a tourniquet unless the entire limb is shredded. Tourniquets are used in movies and on TV all of the time in situations like this, but the depiction is dangerously misleading.
They do a great job of stopping blood flow in severe cases, but that means all (or almost all) blood flow. Any longer than a couple of minutes with a tourniquet adds the risk of losing the entire body part because it will be damaged by the total lack of blood flow. It is always advisable to apply direct pressure to the wound instead unless it’s impossible.
When You Are Rescued
When someone arrives to help you, explain to them what happened, show them your wound, and tell them where you ran into the komodo dragon. This will allow them to decide the best route out and to the nearest hospital, and allow them to decide what immediate help you need.
Hopefully, they will have anti-venom available. If they don’t, the hospital will provide it. At this point, they may have the supplies to better dress your wound, or even stitch it closed. Stay hydrated and power through the pain as you make it to a place where you can be treated.
Basic First Aid and Emergency Know-how is Your Best Weapon
Like most big, predatory animals, the best way to respond to a bite from a komodo dragon is to get to safety, call for help, and do your best to get yourself stable. Knowing your environment goes a long way in emergency situations like this, but these problems often arise when you’re adventuring through strange territory. Being aware and prepared will go a long way.
Watch for any signs of predators as you make your journey through the wilderness so you know when to switch up your route and avoid coming into close contact with an animal that might cause problems.
Keep a first aid kit on your person, ideally with some specialty products that will work for the specific ailments that could befall you in the area you’re in. Aside from that, always make sure you have a means of communicating with the outside world so you can call for help if things go sideways.
Making Your Escape
As already mentioned, the best thing to do is back away slowly, but what do you do if it pursues you aggressively? Keep in mind that Komodo dragons typically move pretty slow but they can lunge in brief spurts up to 13 mph (20 kph).
The average human is pretty slow. Not sure if you noticed, but most of us are pretty out of shape. Even if you’re on top of your game, your top speed probably peeks around 20 mph. So if you’re going to make a break for it, you’ll want to push yourself to do so with a quickness.
Consider climbing a tree. Komodo Dragons are quite awful climbers. The downside to this approach is that once you’re up in the tree, you’ll eventually have to climb down. Your good friend Mr. Dragon may still be patiently waiting for you. Also, you want to be a capable climber if you go this route. A fruit picker in 2009 fell out of a tree, injuring himself, before being killed by several hungry Komodo Dragons. Don’t be that guy.
Beware Their Sharp Senses
Assuming that you’ve successfully escaped the initial pursuit, you still have to be keenly aware of the Komodo Dragons’ refined senses. They are excellent hunters for a reason.
They have an impeccable sense of vision being able to see up to a thousand feet away. Their sense of smell is what is really concerning though. They smell with their forked tongues. They taste the air and can smell directionally in 3D. How cool is that? I mean, not for you but still cool. They can use their super tongues to smell you up to a mile away.
Once You’ve Gotten Away
It’s important to seek medical attention immediately if you’ve sustained any bites or injuries. Not only is their bite venomous, but the bacteria in their mouth can also lead to nasty infections. You may need stitches and coagulation medications as well. Given you’re isolated whereabouts, you may need to be airlifted or speed-boated to help.
While you are in transport to a medical facility, apply pressure to your wound to prevent massive blood loss. Stay calm and attempt to stay conscious. If you start feeling sleepy, don’t give in to the temptation to shut your eyes.
If you did not sustain any injuries from your encounter, immediately find your way back to other people and seek shelter. The Komodo dragon has your scent now and you definitely don’t want round 2.
Like most animal survival guides, the best way to prepare for a potential encounter is to avoid one in the first place. But that’s not always how reality plays out. You could unknowingly enter their territory and be within 100 yards of them at any time.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to face a Komodo Dragon in this fashion. If you do go on any tours at the Komodo National Park, you should probably just go ahead and heed the guidance of your instructor and not venture off into danger.
I hope this post on how to survive a komodo dragon attack helped you understand them better so you can prepare for a possible encounter.
Further Reading On Komodo Dragon Survival: