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Zoo Quest (1954-61)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Zoo Quest for a Dragon: 6: Dragons of Komodo, originally transmitted on BBC, 9 November 1956

Presenter David Attenborough presents this sixth edition from the studio. By way of introducing the fearsome creature who is the subject of this latest quest, he presents a monitor lizard, previously thought to be the largest of its species until 1912, when a new lizard was discovered measuring 12 feet long. This is the Komodo dragon, named after its island home.

With the aid of a map, Attenborough relates his dogged attempts to reach the home of the dragon via the neighbouring island of Flores. Taking a small boat helmed by a deaf smuggler and two local children, he and his cameraman haul their equipment on board but decide against bringing food as it is assumed they will catch fish during the voyage. It emerges, however, that the captain does not know the way to Komodo, nor does he have any fishing rods with which to catch their meals.

Navigating by a sketched map while tackling hazards such as coral reefs and whirlpools, the party reach Komodo within seven days and meet with the head of the village. He warns of the dangers of the Komodo dragon, explaining that just a few months ago a native of the island was killed by the predator. Later, he sells them two goat hides in order to help attract and entrap one. They move into the jungle, where one of the boys helps to cook part of the goat for sustenance and uses the smell to attract the lizards.

After initial sightings of two dragons, Attenborough constructs a makeshift trap from saplings and the fibre of palm trees and places the cooked meat within it, being careful to cover the surround with palm leaves so as to encourage the dragon to enter the trap. After a smaller dragon attempts to claim the meat, he is scared off, and eventually the larger of the two becomes trapped.

Back in the studio, Attenborough explains that for all their persistence, the team could not obtain the export licence to bring the creature back to London Zoo, and so the Komodo dragon remains in Indonesia.