EATEN by Dragons
The Komodo dragon, which lives only on the island of Komodo and a few neighbouring islands in the Lesser Sunda chain of Indonesia, often reaches 2.75m in length. A male can weigh up to 250kg after a large meal.
The Komodo dragon has been blamed for many unexplained human deaths or disappearances. Baron Rudolf Reding von Biberegg is thought to be the first European victim of the dragons. He disappeared in July 1974 on the Indonesian island of Komodo - only his broken camera and glasses were ever found.
Early in the morning of July 18, 1974, a small group of adventure tourists set sail from the Indonesian island of Flores. They were on their way to spot dragons on the remote island of Komodo. Among their number was a Swiss baron, 74-year-old Rudolf Reding von Biberegg. The itinerary for the day was to find and watch the Komodo dragon, a large, potentially dangerous reptile, in its natural habitat.
These enormous lizards strip their prey of almost every last scrap of meat and will eat bones, hooves and hide.
The group was well prepared, having brought goat's meat to entice the voracious lizards, and a picnic for themselves. They landed on a flat stretch of beach and made their way inland across the hot, dry, barren landscape in search of the animals. It did not take long to find them. Hardly had they laid out the goat's meat before the enormous lizards put on a positively prehistoric spectacle for the tourists - who had retired to a safe distance.
From all directions, the animals rushed to the meat and fell upon it, tearing at it with sharp claws and rows of sharply-pointed teeth. Baron Reding was spellbound. Long after the creatures had withdrawn, hissing and flicking their tongues, he and his astonished companions stood silently rooted to the spot.
Lunch was next on the agenda and the tourists and boat crew unpacked food and drink and set it out. Reding was not in the mood for lunch or making conversation and told the group that he wanted to spend a few hours by himself back at the boat. He set off alone - a decision that cost him his life.
THE BARON DISAPPEARS
What happened next remains a mystery. No one knows if Reding really intended to go back to the boat, or whether, perhaps, he had decided to take another look at the dragons. Whatever his reason, he was not with the boat when the group returned to the beach a few hours later.
Everyone in the party was worried and they made a thorough search of the area around the anchorage, but found nothing. Although they were now seriously anxious for Reding's safety, they had no choice but to leave the island, having brought too little water and not enough food for an overnight stay. They sailed back to Flores in the almost certain knowledge that something dreadful had happened.
THE SEARCH FOR CLUES
The group reported the incident to the authorities as soon as they returned, and a search party was organised. The next day more than a hundred people travelled to Komodo and combed the island for signs of the missing man. Eventually high up in the island's hills and miles off the beaten track, they found an ominous clue Reding's glasses and his smashed camera. There was no other trace of the missing man or his body which suggested only one thing. He had been completely devoured. No one will ever know for sure what happened. What is known is that Komodo dragons are predators and actively hunt their prey roaming their territory in search of food. They can also sprint for short distances at speeds of 15 miles per hour - about as fast as a dog - and could - probably outrun a hot, tired 74 year old. They can eat up to 80 per cent of their body weight at one meal, using their sharp teeth to carve out huge chunks of flesh and tissue. Reding might have been hunted and killed, or had an accident or suffered a stroke in the humid tropical climate, becoming easy prey. A few years later, he was officially declared dead.
Today, the home of the Komodo dragons is a National Park covering 669 square miles of land and marine area. It is a major tourist attraction, with more than 15,000 visitors a year coming to view the 'world's last surviving dragons'.
The Komodo dragon
This carnivore prefers carrion, but will also
hunt larger animals such as wild pigs.
Komodo dragons are cannibals - some 10 per cent of their food comes from young - or the weak members of their own species.
They can consume vast quantities of food incredibly quickly: one individual weighing 50 kilograms was seen to devour an entire 31-kilogram pig in 17 minutes.
Komodos are solitary, but will gather in groups to consume large prey or to breed.
Hundreds of teeth
Komodo dragons have mouths full of flat, serrated teeth, highly adapted for cutting flesh. The teeth break off easily and are replaced frequently; a dragon may grow as many as 200 new teeth each year.