Critical voices even condemn the venture into the wild. Should you generally better refrain from photographing wild animals? See what Anke experienced and what she thinks of.

Today, Behind the scene takes place in Komodo National Park, one of the world heritage sites, in Indonesia. I visited the island of Komodo with my family. Our tour guide made it possible for me to photograph this unique animal: the Komodo dragon. Experiencing large animals in the wild not only pumps more adrenalin into our blood, it also creates powerful emotions. If they are also dangerous animals – at least what we generally consider dangerous – even more so. Whether or not you finally encounter the wild animal is always a question of patience and chance or luck.

We reached Komodo by boat. There is a small village on the shore of the island whose inhabitants live mainly from tourism. On the jetty, they sell wood carvings, T- shirts and accessoires related to Komodo.

We meet our tour guide, Gede. Before we set off, he briefly shows us the tour on a board and remarks that there is no guarantee of meeting a Komodo dragon. But with a mischievous smile, Gede adds that the chances are quite good because he knows the lizards’s favourite spots well. Well then, let’s see.

The tour begins with an easy climb in ankle-high grass up to the first hilltop. And then we see our first Komodo dragon! We are all excited. These are not small lizards, these are really huge animals! Now that’s what I call luck, right? It’s quite far away – and unfortunately also on the run. In my first photo you can see more grass than Komodo dragon. Hopefully there will be a second chance, I think. Gede remains positive and tells us with his relaxed, easy-going manner: “It’ll work out.”

However, until the target of our desire becomes visible in our lens, we enjoy other things on our tour. We have wandered into a jungle and Gede draws our attention to snakes and other smaller animals and plants. Finally, he climbs another hill, which leads us out of the jungle and onto a meadow with a tree. At the top, we are all feeling the heat and are a little exhausted.

Then I saw the view and my energy returned. Breathtaking! In front of us was a 360° view of the hilly islands of this national park, as if painted in the turquoise- coloured sea. Huge bald eagles circled above us. As far as the eye could see: grass, palm trees, jungle and sea. Below, on the shore, the small village with its wooden houses on stilts. It couldn’t be more beautiful, I thought. The excitement about the Komodo dragon was completely forgotten.

Out of sheer amazement, I didn’t realise that the others had turned their attention to something else. In front of us, completely relaxed and calm, lay a Komodo dragon, about 3 metres long, under the tree in the grass. It struck me like a bolt of lightning and I hoped that this time I would be quick enough to take a photo. But this creature was in no hurry. On the contrary, it was the perfect photo model. It even seemed to enjoy this shoot and showed itself from its best side. The view through the zoom lens was almost magical. Was this primeval animal really looking at me? With those remarkable crocodile-like teeth and its wrinkly, leathery green skin? I was fascinated and once again I loved photography to capture this amazing moment.

I was truly flashed when I took the picture of the Komodo dragon. A deeply moving, overwhelming feeling spread through me. We weren’t in a zoo here. There was no fence separating me from this animal and promising me safety. I wasn’t wearing a protective waistcoat either. I was simply eye to eye with a giant lizard. At some distance, of course, but far enough away? But as Gede was sitting next to me, I wasn’t afraid. He assured us that the Komodo dragon wasn’t hungry. Well, I hope this special being knows that too, I thought. Because despite its mass, Komodo dragons can still reach speeds of up to 20 kilometres per hour. In any case, this was definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences!

Jane Goodall once said: “We’re part of, not separated from the rest of the animal kingdom.” With this sentence, she emphasises the idea that humans are not an isolated species, but form an integral part of the entire animal kingdom. She emphasises the common evolutionary roots and the continuity of life on earth. This idea can lead to a deeper understanding and respect for other living beings, as it emphasises the similarities and interdependencies between humans and animals. Once I internalised this statement, I thought the world could look very different.

Unfortunately, we still act far too little in this sense. I became shamefully aware of people’s behaviour when we returned to the village and saw a goat standing there. No, it wasn’t standing on a beautiful green meadow, like here in Europe. It was standing on a broken wooden plateau by the sea, in the middle of a mountain of plastic rubbish! There was plastic everywhere in the village. It washes up from the sea in large quantities, as it does in many other parts of Indonesia. No registration as a national park or world heritage site will help if we don’t think and act more globally.

I was already thinking what a sad and depressing end to a wonderful tour for which I was very grateful. But the warmth and smile of a villager, who sold my son a self-carved wooden Komodo dragon at the end, gave me hope. It makes sense to take action for nature, nature-based solutions and a tolerant coexistence, because a smile means everywhere the same and we all live on one planet.
Now, through my experience here and in other countries, I have realised that I can do good through my visit. National parks and people in it’s local areas can be supported with my entrance fee and my expenses. And if you stick to the rules in the parks, the animals are not harmed. You should therefore first and foremost clarify in advance whether the tour providers act sustainably. At the same time, I can use my photos to show how valuable and beautiful our planet and all its inhabitants are and hopefully inspire people to travel and act just as sustainably.