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The Fascinating Web of King Kong, Giant Lizards, and the Boone and Crockett Club

Burden's wife and Lee Fai at base camp, Komodo. The roof of woven leaves harbored all manner of beasts, including pit-vipers, lizards, centipedes, spiders, etc. Indeed a most interesting collection could have been made from our shelter.


In the latest release from the Boone and Crockett Club’s Classics Series, you travel to a far away land of living dinosaurs, lava-spewing volcanoes, and, of course, there’s King Kong.

Imagine the year is 1926. Your spouse sits down to dinner and calmly asks if you’d like to go hunting for dragons in the war-torn Far East. Do you go? If you’re married to explorer Douglas Burden, you start packing immediately. Burden’s book, Dragon Lizards of Komodo, is a true tale of adventure in which he chronicles his expedition’s attempt to bring back Komodo dragons for the American Museum of Natural History. It’s also just one of the latest releases from the Boone and Crockett Club’s Classics Series.

...they all had a thirst for adventure, which meant travelling to malaria-infested jungles, tracking down dragon lizards, catching those dragons, and bringing a few home.

As for Burden’s wife Catherine, she was more than excited to embark on the adventure. “The idea fired her with enthusiasm,” Burden wrote. “And, when I told her that these beasts were the very ones which had given rise to all the dragons of mythology and of the Chinese flag, she succumbed at once, and accordingly we began to concoct our plans.”

In the early twentieth century, rumors of ancient giant dragon lizards living on islands in the Far East permeated adventurous social circles like the Explorers Club. Based in New York City, the Club’s membership included the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Carl Akeley, Douglas Burden, and Merian C. Cooper. All of them were also members of the Boone and Crockett Club, and they all had a thirst for adventure, which meant travelling to malaria-infested jungles, tracking down dragon lizards, catching those dragons, and bringing a few home. 

Today, we know that Komodo dragons are the largest lizard species, weighing up to 277 pounds and growing up to ten feet long. But a century ago, little, if anything, was known about the forty million-year-old living dinosaurs. 

Burden and his team traveled to the remote islands off the northwest coast of Australia in search of the mythical beasts. Armed with the latest technology of the day—motion picture cameras—they documented their efforts to hunt and capture the dragons. Watch as they set traps and wait in a blind while the giant lizards saunter in. 


On the expedition, the fear of being eaten by these sauntering devils was in the back of everyone’s mind. “Suddenly, something drew my attention to the edge of the jungle on my right, and there, sure enough, was one of our antediluvian monsters,” Burden wrote. “For a moment, he stood partly concealed by the leafy jungle, and then, with heaving flanks and ponderous movements, he crawled forth into the light of day. At the same moment, I sank motionless into the tall grass, little realizing that I thus put myself directly in his path to the bait.” 

Burden puts the reader squarely in those jungles with him and right next to those dragons. “He seemed hardly to belong to this world—more fitting, I thought, that he should have crawled up from unthinkable solitudes of some bottomless gulch of the Inferno. A hoary customer, black as dead lava, whose very aspect spoke of indefinite existence, I wondered whither his ancestors had wandered on their endless journeyings to this enchanted isle.”

Completed Komodo dragon lizard group at the American Museum of Natural History.

Having survived their ordeal, Burden’s party brought back fourteen Komodo dragons, two of which were alive and would live at the Bronx Zoo. The twelve other lizards would be part of an exhibition group in the American Museum of Natural History.

From Dragons to Giant Apes 

Cooper was a member of the Boone and Crockett Club. He produced 32 motion pictures and led the way for Hollywood producers using the 3-color Technicolor film process. He received an honorary Academy Award Oscar and has a "star" in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Burdens returned from their expedition with more than just dragons. Their tales of adventure were featured in Dragon Lizards of Komodo and retold at speaking engagements around New York City. An early member of the Boone and Crockett Club, Merian C. Cooper also ran in these circles, and it was only a matter of time before he spoke with Burden. Those tales would eventually inspire Cooper to produce one of the most famous movies of all time, King Kong

To summarize Cooper’s life in a few sentences does him no justice; he packed in 100 lives in those seventy-nine years. Born in Florida in 1893, he served as a pilot during World War I. He was shot down twice, survived both crashes, but then spent nine months in a Soviet POW camp. He escaped and returned home in 1921 when he took a job at the New York Times. He soon began to produce numerous films, including the one and only King Kong. 

Historians suggest that the movie’s plot is based upon Burden’s expedition, and it does make sense: Explorers travel to far away lands in an effort to track down and capture mythical beasts, only to bring them back to New York City with great fanfare. Even Burden’s wife was thought to be the inspiration for the damsel dangling from Kong’s meaty paws atop the Empire State Building. 

In yet another twist to this tale, Boone and Crockett Club member and explorer Carl E. Akeley had a hand in producing not just King Kong but also Virunga National Park, Africa’s first national park. At a time when motion picture technology was in its infancy, Akeley invented a motion picture camera that was much lighter than others of the time. His camera could pan and tilt easily and was virtually indestructible. Akeley’s camera was used throughout Hollywood, including in the production of the 1933 classic, King Kong. 

Today, the Boone and Crockett Visitor Center in Missoula, Montana, features an interpretive display, exhibiting several historical artifacts, including an original Akeley motion picture camera, the same model used to film King Kong. As of this writing, the Visitor Center still doesn’t have a dragon lizard, yet. 

More About the Classics Series 

In 2012, the Boone and Crockett Club launched our B&C Classics series of hunting and adventure books, including works from Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, as well as William T. Hornaday, Charles Sheldon, Frederick C. Selous, and other adventurers from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Each title in the B&C Classics series is selected by a committee of vintage hunting literature experts and is authored by a Boone and Crockett Club member. Unlike other reprints of these hunting and adventure books, the B&C Classics series has been meticulously converted resulting in high-quality, digitally remastered eBooks and paperback editions. Many are complete with vintage photos and drawings not found in other editions. This attention to detail helps transport readers back to a time when hunting trips didn’t happen over a weekend but were adventures that spanned weeks, months, or even years.


Komodo Dragons Fact sheet 

The Komodo dragon, also called Komodo monitor, is the world's largest lizard species. The earliest known fossils of the genus Varanus appeared about 40 million years ago.

This lizard can reach lengths of up to 10 ft. or more and can weigh up to 277 pounds. The males are bigger than the females, which rarely exceed 8 feet. The Komodo can live more than 50 years in the wild.

Komodo dragons are found mainly on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rintja, Padar and Flores.

An adult Komodo dragon can consume up to 80 percent of its body weight in one meal. It has two highly developed sensory organs that allow it to detect rotting carcasses from distances as great as six miles. It is primarily a scavenger, but it will also stalk animals ranging in size from small rodents to large water buffalo. It sits motionless and camouflaged alongside game trails for the unwary. In an attack, it lunges at its victim and clasps it with serrated teeth.Mating occurs at or around feeding sites. In September, a clutch of 15 to 30 eggs is buried in a nest dug by the powerful claws of the female dragon. The hatchlings emerge from the nest 8 or 9 months later and immediately scramble up the nearest tree to avoid being eaten by the adults. They will descend to the forest floor roughly a year later.

Wildlife shot of a large male Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) at the beach of Komodo islands. The Komodo Dragon (also called Komodo monitor) is the largest living species of lizard, with a maximum length of 3 metres (10 ft) and a body weight up to 70 kg (150 lb). The animal is a relict of very large lizards that once lived across Indonesia and Australia. © GUENTER GUNI​​​​​​​/

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-Theodore Roosevelt