It doesn’t matter if you have razor-sharp teeth, lethal venom, and can take down a human, it seems wildlife poachers will still try to smuggle you out of the country and sell you on Facebook. That is, at least, the case for Earth’s largest lizards living on Komodo Island in Indonesia.
It’s been reported that at least five (but as many as 41 according to conflicting reports) komodo dragons were smuggled from the island and sold for around $1,400 each, East Java police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera said in March. Authorities said the suspects also attempted to smuggle bearcats, cockatoos, and cassowary birds. The five smugglers, if convicted, could spend up to five years in prison and face a 100-million-rupiah fine.
In a separate incident, three people were allegedly arrested in an attempt to illegally sell wildlife online, this time with otters, leopards, and pangolins. Another incident in the same month saw wildlife traffickers arrested for smuggling 5,000 endangered pig-nosed turtles from the eastern province of Papua.
It’s been reported that Indonesia will temporarily close Komodo island to visitors from January 2020 to save the endangered dragons and help restore their habitat and numbers following the recent reports of smuggling. The news was first reported by local newspaper Tempo. “The meeting concludes that Komodo Island will be shut down temporarily in January 2020,” East Nusa Tenggara Province administration spokesman Marius Jelamu allegedly said on March 29.
However, according to the South China Morning Post, Indonesia’s government has dismissed such statements, saying no decision has yet been made. “We have a team that [is] now working to collect data and make an assessment," the Post reports Mr Wiratno, director general of conservation for Indonesia's Environment and Forestry Ministry, saying. "We need to wait for their results before making any decision. We expect the team to submit their report in July.”
IFLScience has reached out to authorities for comment but have not yet heard back.
Komodo dragons are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List. This status provides them with protection by international law, but they are still sometimes smuggled and sold as exotic pets. The creatures can weigh a hefty 150 kilograms (330 pounds) and grow to 3 meters (10 feet) in length. They will eat just about anything on the island, included carrion, pigs, water buffalo, and, yes, humans.
How do they take down such large prey? Well, their venomous bite lowers their victim’s blood pressure, causes massive bleeding, stops clotting, provokes muscle paralysis, and induces shock in their victims. The creature’s powerful jaws and serrated teeth can also leave a gaping wound in its prey, with blood loss sending the animal to a quick death.
However, whether the creatures have evolved their venom to take down prey or for other biological purposes remains up for debate. Some argue that the lizard’s bite takes such an eviscerating chunk out of its victim that blood loss is induced without the help of venom.