I have seen hell, and it is indisputably on Rinca Island in Indonesia. This Komodo dragon-infested spot is where those scuba divers who got caught in a rip tide washed up last week. Far from being â€œmisunderstoodâ€ reptiles who only â€œoccasionallyâ€ attack humans, as the British journalist Jon Henley has described them, the Rinca dragons engage in what must be the vilest animal practices ever witnessed by man.
I met three particularly nasty ones last year. We had walked past a few harmless-looking dragons sunning themselves in the bush or lurking under the stilts of houses, and were not beyond thinking we could be friends when we reached a water hole. A large buffalo was lying on its side, clearly having been brought down by two two metre dragons and one that was even larger. The three reptiles were crawling over it, and during the next 24 hours they proceeded to eat it alive.
The first dragon had grabbed it by its testicles and was starting to chew its way into the body from below.
The second dragon was slowly forcing the buffaloâ€™s head open and was going down its throat. The third was, as they say, going in the back door. To make an already grisly scene far worse, the whole slow-motion kill was being conducted in deep mud.
After a few hours all was black â€” apart from the blood that occasionally bubbled up from the muddy depths, the white saliva that sometimes oozed from the buffaloâ€™s mouth and the bright, flickering forked tongues of the three dragons, which were forever darting around. Slippery things slithered slowly over other slippery things until it was hard to tell whose tail was whose, where one body started and another stopped and who was doing what to whom. The smell was fetid, the heat intense.
Every so often the buffalo shuddered and tried to rise. Was it really still alive? We watched from a few feet away, our guide armed only with a stick, transfixed and disgusted like us. Our stomachs heaved. The buffalo continued to twitch.
We left and returned several times; each time the horror was more complete. The next day, two Americans told us that the three dragons had got deep inside the buffalo, which was still twitching.