“There’s one looking straight at me,” remarks Stephen, “and I have to say, it’s one of the most malevolent expressions I’ve ever seen on any living thing.” Malevolent or not, Komodo dragons are the largest member of the monitor lizard family, occasionally reaching a length of 3m and weighing up to 90kg. Historians speculate that Chinese traders, travelling to the Lesser Sunda Islands in the 2nd century, came across these fearsome beasts and returned home with stories that exacerbated, or even inspired, dragon mythology.
Some maps, it is said, are inscribed with the legend, “Here be dragons”. They are certainly fearsome beasts, possessing huge claws that can disembowel a horse, a thick muscular tail that can knock over a water buffalo, teeth like a shark” s and a mouth full of venomous saliva with anticoagulant properties that ensures anything they bite dies a slow and painful death. Did its long, forked tongue, which is able to detect a rotting carcass from some 4km away, encourage traders to say these dragons breathed fire?