Komodo Dragon

In 1910, it is said, a Dutch pilot crash-landed on Komodo, a rugged, volcanic Indonesian island. After his rescue he claimed to have seen an incredibly large lizard, about thirteen feet long. Another story, equally murky in origin, has it that in 1912, a pilot who had safely landed on Komodo returned with stories of monstrous dragons that ate goats and pigs and even attacked horses. Nobody believed him.

What we do know for certain is that in 1912, Lieutenant Van Steyn van Hensbroek killed a Komodo dragon measuring seven feet long. He sent a photograph and skin to Major P. A. Ouwens, director of the Zoological Museum and Botanical Gardens in Buitenzorg, Java. Ouwens was the first to write a scientific description of the Komodo dragon, as it was called.

The heyday of Komodo dragon hunting was to come in the late 1920s. While those early pilot stories are difficult to confirm, it is known that in 1926 an English aviator named Cobham, who had flown to the nearby island of Sumbawa, sighted a captive Komodo dragon there. He wrote a letter to the London Times about it, and it caused quite a stir.

During the early 1920s the Dutch had tried and tailed to capture live Komodo dragons. The dragon that Cobham saw on Sumbawa chained to a tree may have been the one that arrived at the Amsterdam Zoological Garden at the end of 1926. But before its arrival, the press was to have a field day with the dragons.

Openly, with the whole world watching, Douglas Burden, along with a professional herpetologist, a Pathé cameraman, and a skilled hunter, led an expedition in 1926 with the avowed purpose of capturing live dragons. Pathé newsreels of the Komodo dragon captured the public fancy, and the Komodo dragon became an international zoological superstar. When Burden brought back two live Komodo dragons to the Bronx Zoo in New York City—the first in the New World—the lines to see them stretched for blocks.

Expeditions sponsored by museums and zoos went off in search of more Komodo dragons. Newspapers around the world told of the dramatic capture of two Komodo dragons in 1933, by two young men collecting for the St. Louis Zoo. In the following years, dragons were added to the London Zoo as well as other locations.

The story, cryptozoologically speaking, does not end there. One of the young men who captured live Komodo dragons was William H. Harkness. “Wild Bill” Harkness then went on to try to catch the first five giant panda. He died in the attempt. But his widow, Ruth Harkness, continued the hunt, and did capture the first giant panda, Su-Lin, in 1936.


The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark

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