As payment for the use of the meadows, the inhabitants of Komodo leave the dead bodies of their cattle for the great predator. The more deaths there are, the less likely it is the reptiles will collect the debt by attacking the live cattle. On this occasion, it is a goat that has died. The wind carries the smell, and the dragon comes to collect its due. He must begin to eat immediately. If he has found the corpse, then other dragons will not be far behind. The first thing it will eat will be the entrails, which are the softest and easiest parts to eat. Before he has had a chance to begin, a second, and even bigger lizard appears on the scene. In very little time, the wind has carried the message to all the dragons in the area. As if they had been summoned to a meeting, they all come together here in the clearing to take part in the banquet. By the time the third guest arrives, the entrails have been devoured. This is the prize for the first ones to discover the feast. The body is ripped apart and peacefully shared out. Surprisingly, they do not fight. Each one finds a space, and concentrates on the meal in front of them. In just a few minutes, the goat has almost entirely disappeared. The lizards will swallow the bones, the skin, and even the hooves. The only thing left lying on the ground are the horns, a pool of blood, and claw marks, the only sign that the lizards have accepted the payment of the natives. Amid the frenzy, a new character appears in the clearing. The pigs were also introduced into the island by man, and are also a feast much appreciated by the dragons. Though that does not appear to worry our visitor. Despite the proximity, no one attacks him. The pig is faster than the lizards, and as long as it knows where they are, it will be safe. The predators know this, and will not waste energy trying to hunt it down, when they know it is pointless. All the islands on which humans have settled have been invaded by the animals they brought with them. The different ecosystems have absorbed pigs, dogs or goats, which escaped from their human masters and were able to adapt to life in the wild. They are the most recent newcomers, and the latest victims of the Komodo dragon. Man has lived alongside the giant lizards since time immemorial. Over generations, children and adults who strayed from the settlements have disappeared in the jungle, leaving no trace. After the initial anguish, people became resigned to this. It is the tribute they must pay to the dragons for allowing them to live on their island. Today, about 2,500 people live on Komodo and Rinca, two of the four islands on which dragons are still exist. For them, as for their ancestors, the mystery of Komodo is something entirely normal, which no longer surprises them. But for the Europeans who came to these islands for the first time, it was the confirmation that they were indeed in a mythical land, where dragons still terrorised man. The animals of their nightmares had come to life. Some of these animals remained inactive during daylight hours. This group of flying foxes is resting in the branches of the trees, waiting for nightfall. They are the largest bats in the world but, despite their threatening appearance, they are inoffensive, because the flying foxes are fruit-eaters. It stirs to life just as the day is ending, and the sun goes down. With the arrival of night, the islands are transformed. The species which remain inactive during the day now awake, the predators go hunting under the cover of darkness, and the air is filled with sounds which still today inspire fear among the natives. People remain in their huts, and no one leaves the village. For a few hours, the islands return to their wild state, untamed by man. Though they are a fisher people, the inhabitants of Komodo have transformed the ecosystem of the island. Since man first came here, goats and water buffalo have grazed on the savanna. The constant felling of trees for wood has cleared many of the forests which, in the past, covered these lands, and much of the islands is now savanna. These changes directly affected the dragons. Their main prey, the herbivores endemic, were reduced in numbers by the hunters and their trained dogs, while the cattle devoured the pasture. With the presence of man in its territory, and the decline of its natural prey, confrontation was inevitable. The dragons began to hunt down the domestic cattle and came increasingly close to the human settlements. As the ecosystems deteriorated, the pressure on the local inhabitants became increasingly great. The natives, unaware that they were to blame, saw how each year there were more and more attacks. The lizards seemed to collect their tribute ever more frequently. The size of the prey is no problem for the lizards. If they can’t kill it instantly, biting it will be enough. In their mouths, they have over 50 types of infectious bacteria, and a single bite is sufficient for these to be transferred to the wound. Within a week at most, the animal will die as a result of the infection. When this happens, the dragons will find it by its smell, and quickly devour it. A surprising example of planning for the future. Neither the tough skin nor the bones are a problem for the powerful jaws of these lizards. Anything which provides nutrition will be ingested. A dragon can eat up to 70% of its body weight at a single sitting, thanks to its ability to swell its stomach. A nine-year old child can be completely devoured by a single adult. It is not surprising, therefore, that these creatures inspire profound terror among the natives of the island. When they have almost finished, a newcomer joins the banquet. It has detected the smell from several kilometres away, and is a little late in arriving. Luckily, the dead animal was sufficiently large, and there is still food left for him. Their ability to ingest enormous quantities of food at a time allows them to go for long periods without eating. They will not find something to eat every day, but nature has given them a stomach able to compensate for this lack of regular meals. If we take into account that the species which may have lived in China in the past was even larger, the old legends of dragons demanding young virgins to calm their wrath do not seem so exaggerated. From the size of their stomachs we can tell which ones are full. After having ingested over 40 kg. of food each, they stumble off away from the group. The others will shortly follow them. What they want now is a shady place in which to rest and digest. Competition between the dragons and man has brought them to the verge of extinction. Just four years after they were discovered, they were already a protected species but, despite this, numbers continue to fall. It was only 31 years later, in 1936, that the government understood that protecting them would be useless if they didn’t also conserve their natural habitat. The islands on which they still lived were declared sanctuaries and their ecosystems protected. Man finally seems to have understood the value of the jungles which contain plant species found nowhere else in the world, the same jungles which gave rise to the most incredible legends. The depths of these jungles are the final refuge of the animals which conferred on the islands of Indonesia an aura of mystery. Species which, until very recently, have remained hidden from the sight of man, and in some cases still today have been little studied by investigators from around the world. The archipelago is, at one and the same time, myth and reality, the place where science and fantasy meet. The movement of the continental plates created it. The glaciations and the sea gave it life, and evolution and isolation have converted it into a legend. Today, many of its mysteries have been revealed, but the interior of the islands still hides unknown creatures, animals which perhaps today, just like three hundred years ago, we believe only exist in the imagination of our ancestors.