On a dusty track in the Indonesian island of Rinca, a local guide tells a group of tourists about the life cycle of the Komodo dragon, the island’s famous lizard, which can kill a water buffalo with a single bacteria-laced bite.
Halfway through his explanation, the guide stops abruptly, staring at the ground just past his ring of listeners. He raises his forked staff and signals to the visitors to move toward him. Behind the group, motionless and camouflaged against sprawling tree roots, an adult dragon lies within striking range of several of the tourists, including me.
When they’re not dismembering a buffalo, lumbering along a path or lying in the sun digesting, Komodo dragons, which can grow to more than 3 meters long (10 feet) and weigh 90 kilograms (198 pounds), can be next to invisible in the dusty wooded scrub of Rinca and neighboring Komodo Island.