This is the story of an island giant… no not that film about that big bugger off monkey… but huddle up dear reader as here is a tale every bit as incredible and a monster every bit as abominable…
In 1492 Martin Behaim covered a metal ball with a map and thought it rather splendid, he called it the ‘Erdapfel’ and though it lacked the Americas and even had a few made up countries for good measure, it was the first globe. The second oldest globe is of an unknown origin… the Hunt-Lenox globe. It is dated variously between 1503 and 1510 and is emblazoned with the really rather smashing description across Asia… HC SVNT DRACONES… HERE BE DRAGONS.
Remarkably it is the only time that such an inscription has appeared on any antiquated map… though dragons indeed here there be… it just took us a while to find them.
In 1908 a pioneering Dutch aviator crash landed into the shark-infested waters in a far flung arm of the East Indies. He thought himself the luckiest chap alive as he had managed to cheat a certain death… he quickly re-thought his position however when he found himself shacked up on an island with slobbering three-metre-long man-eating lizards. Somehow our Dutch friend escaped this devil of a pickle, and three months later upon his return he told everyone he knew about his incredible escapades on the island of the dragons. Unfortunately living in the Netherlands it was presumably commonplace for people to hallucinate fantastical creatures most days of the week and everyone thought him quite the silly sausage.
Years after our hapless Dutch friend crashed, skins and bones of a Komodo made it to Java where a learned type wrote a paper about them. Though it wasn’t until 1926 that the world famed explorer W. Douglas Burden put forward an expedition to catch a glimpse of the magnificent beasts. Unfortunately it still being the Edwardian period ‘catching a glimpse’ generally meant filling them with lead pellets. Thankfully some Komodo were a bit luckier and W. Douglas Burden took a couple of live ones back to civilization.
This massive lizard, like the rest of the monitor lizards, first evolved in Australia. Fifteen million years ago Australia rather clumsily bumped into Southeast Asia, though no one knows if it was because he’d been drinking again, sloshing some of its native monitor lizards into the islands of the Pacific ring of fire. It is because of this collision that we are fortunate enough to have this incredible abominable lizard. So how did this monstrous chap get so big? Well on the tiny island of Komodo it was subject to those tricksy laws of evolution, growing huge… an example of Island gigantism… yes much like that massive movie monkey … and gigantic they are… more than 3 metres long in some cases. What’s more they have a great big mouth full of nasty bugs that means if you are unlucky enough to get bitten by the sod then you slowly succumb to blood poisoning. Recently it has been found that Komodo dragons have venom glands in the lower jaw, this venom causes shock and general wooziness… as if shock and wooziness was needed when you have just been bitten by a 3-metre-long lizard.
Komodo dragons wouldn’t think twice about gobbling you up either as these sods are man-eaters; in fact they’ve killed 5 people since 1974. These devilish cads are even partial to a bit of cannibalism, 10% of their diet is young Komodos, who not surprisingly have decided to live in trees. While eating babies is frowned upon in most societies it’s necessary for Komodo as they have very few medium sized prey on the islands.
All big horrible cannibalistic man-eating lizards can have a sweet side though and it turns out these dragons are actually remarkably intelligent. Not a very lovable trait in an enormous venomous man-eating lizard you’d think… but they actually like to play. They even recognize their individual keepers and can even be taught to do tricks. Unlike a certain King Kong… which let’s not forget to mention… was a film that was originally inspired by the story of the discovery of a big bugger off lizard.