JAKARTA, Indonesia — The 17,508-island archipelago comprising Indonesia can be pretty wild.
Few areas is this more obvious than in the country’s range of wildlife, featuring some of the most diverse, fearsome and endangered species on the planet.
The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), for instance, is named for one of the Indonesian islands from which it hails. They can grow up to 11 feet in length and weigh 250 lbs., yet can sprint over short distances quickly enough to prey on deer and other fleet-footed creatures. Carnivorous, they have been known to devour humans and sometimes — when other meat isn’t readily available — each other.
The specimens at Ragunan Zoological Park are about 9 feet long, but they seem to move much slower. Several workers in the Komodo dragons’ lair appeared unconcerned at the fat lizards sunning themselves just a few yards away. They were slightly less scary in captivity than they were in the documentary, “Ring of Fire: An Indonesian Odyssey.”
The Schmutzer Primate Center, located inside the Jakarta zoo, features gorillas in wide-open habitats (who were being given medicine via fruit tea), orangutans in exhibits where human visitors are the ones behind glass (facilitating close-ups when they’re curious) and a variety of rare and endangered monkeys.
The word orangutan is an Indonesian word that comes from the Malay terms for human (“orang”) and forest (“hutan”). The other popular Indonesian word in English is “amok,” which means “murderous frenzy.”
I’m glad to have experienced only one of those terms during my zoo visit.