Komodo National Park, Indonesia
Maen still has nightmares about that morning. About those few minutes in which he almost died. About the time he was attacked by a man-eating reptile and had to fight it off to save his life.
“I don’t like to tell more my story because when I tell again, when I’m sitting alone, I remember,” he says, softly and humbly. “I would like to try to forget this story.”
But Maen, the quiet-spoken middle-aged Indonesian, has agreed to tell me his tale so I can share it. He thinks it’s important for people to understand the dangers of the Komodo dragons.
It was 2009 and Maen had been working here on Rinca Island in Komodo National Park as a ranger for about a year when he went into the office that morning. The small wooden building in the main camp looked the same as usual and he went in and sat at the desk. It was then he looked down.
“I saw the dragon under this table and my leg was here like this”, Maen tells me as he demonstrates how his leg was near the drawers under the desk.
“I don’t use the shoes – just sandals. So after I saw the dragon I think ‘what do I do?’. But in my feeling, I have to pull my leg away.”
At the time he wasn’t thinking about how the animal had ended up inside. As it later turned out, a cleaner had left the door open and the Komodo dragon had come in overnight looking for food. Clearly it had now found what it was looking for.
“I think that if I not pull my leg, the dragon will bite and swallow”, Maen goes on.
“So I tried to pull my leg but the dragon follow and I look and see a tail moving over there. And I think this is a problem for me. And I pull my leg too fast and it got trapped in the table and then the dragon bite.”
The dragon didn’t let go. With its mouth clenched shut, teeth ripping into his flesh, Maen had to think fast. He put his other foot onto the neck of the dragon, pinning it down slightly. Then using his hands, he grabbed the animal’s mouth and pulled it open. He managed to pull his leg free from its jaws – but one of his hands got bitten in the struggle.
During all of this he had managed to shout out for help. The camp the rangers live in is quite small but most of them were in the kitchen and couldn’t hear him. Only one person, in the cafeteria, was close enough.
“I shouted and he came to help me but he didn’t like to come up because the dragon was still moving around”, Maen explains.
“Then he saw the blood on the floor and he got everyone from the kitchen. All the people come running here, but other dragons follow along as well.”
Komodo dragons have a remarkable ability to smell blood – sometimes even kilometres away – and so they had been drawn by Maen’s injuries. While some rangers tried to control these new arrivals, two others ran into the office to rescue their injured friend and hold off the dragon inside.
“So then they carry me down but there were lots of dragons down here”, he recalls.
“There were about seven dragons, all bigger, waiting there. One other friend pushed away all the dragons with a stick. Then they took me to a jetty and go to Flores Island and get medicine in the hospital.”
Maen was taken to hospital at Flores Island, a short boat journey away, before being flown to Bali where he had six hours of emergency treatment. He stayed in hospital there for seven days and then was flown back to Flores Island where he had six months of recovery.
Now, just a couple of years later, he’s still working on Rinca Island in the middle of the Komodo National Park. An island with thousands of Komodo dragons living in the wild.
“My boss said ‘what about you? do you want to work here or another place?’ and I say ‘no problem’”
But it’s not really ‘no problem’. Maen only works inside now so he doesn’t have to deal with the animals directly. He can’t write for too long, though, because his hand still gets so sore from the injuries.
He has a respect for the dragon, telling me, “the dragon – he’s an animal but he’s thinking like people.” And he knows it is still out there somewhere, potentially circling the camp on any day.
“The dragon, I can’t remember which one, he’s still alive”, Maen says,” but I think now he’ll be bigger. If he had a bigger neck then, I couldn’t have hold it open.”
And that could have been the difference between life and death. Let’s hope they never come face to face again.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.