Just another day at the beach... with Komodo dragons. I've done shoots with a lot of apex predators: white sharks, big cats, grizzlies... but this was different. The dragons are unpredictable and maybe a little crazy. They changed direction and more importantly, intent as quickly as anything I've seen before... which is a dicey thing when your plan is to get as close as possible without dying. Notice I didn't say as close as possible without getting hurt. That's because if they bite you, you can be pretty certain you'll die. They have what is thought to be the most toxic bite in the world. They feed on resident deer and buffalo on a few islands in Komodo National Park - biting them and then following them for days or weeks as they slowly die from the toxins in the bite's saliva. I naively thought that sort of time frame would help me by giving me time to get to a real hospital if things went sideways. Singapore was at least 6 or 7 hours away under the best circumstances. I was assured by my guide Foued that I would be dead within a few hours. "Andy, deer and buffalo weigh 4-8 times what you do, you would hardly have time to say goodbye." Ahem.
I told him about the kind of photos I was after while were scuba diving our way across the Komodo region. He mentioned a beach where they scavenge for meat and rest in the sun. Most of these type of photos come from folks with GoPros and such on the end of a long stick. We discussed alternative because of the large camera setup I had, and well... swimming with them isn't really an option is it? It was decided that I would hang over the side of the dinghy and hold my camera in the water while he brought the dragons to me. He used a long two pronged stick with raw meat on the end to bring them close, and also used it to push them away when I was in danger. ( I included a shot of this so you can see what I'm talking about ) I usually don't condone baited wildlife situations, but these dragons were used to the boats and approached us as soon as they saw us - apparently used to people getting close or using meat to get them to come close. It was a difficult shoot. Not just coordinating the actions of the boat, Foued, and the stick with my shooting, but for me to get away quickly when they went for the camera or me as I was sprawled over the side. They get pretty excited when they smell meat. Really unpredictable, agile, and surprisingly fast, even in the water. A few tried to climb in the boat. My hands were holding the camera and they were often inches away. All of the close water shots were taken as I was squirming my way back into the boat. Foued was great, and had a lot of experience with this and his calmness was reassuring. Needless to say, I am still here and got a couple of shots I like. I actually wouldn't mind another go at it now that I know the drill, but it's a long drive from here. Here's a look:
(click on any photo to stop or start the slideshow)