Paw-Paw

How one elephant saved many dragons

Almost on the other side of the world, past the deserts and the dead sea, past the country where the ice-blue temple is, and past the land that is full of golden Buddhas as tall as houses, there is an island. The island is called Komodo. It hasn't got any roads or any railways, any telephones or any shops on it. It hasn't got any houses or even any people on it. But it has got dragons. Real dragons. They're not very large dragons (they’re about twice as long as a grown-up lying down), and they're not very fierce dragons (though they do sometimes eat people). But they are the only real dragons left in the whole world. What's

more, they know they're the only real dragons left in the whole world. Komodo is on a fault. A fault is like a crack in the Earth's skin. Living on a fault is very dangerous because there are lots of earthquakes and volcanoes. Sometimes, islands like Komodo can disappear altogether in an earthquake or get covered in red-hot rocks from a volcano. The dragons don't know about faults, of course. But they can feel the earth shaking, and in their bones they are afraid when the earth shakes. Once, not very long ago, the earth shook so badly that the island cracked in two. On one side were all the dragons. Which was lucky. On the other side was nearly all their food. Which was dreadful. Komodo dragons can't swim.

The nearest island to Komodo is called Sumbawa, and lots of people live on it. Most of them are a greyish brown colour, that’s not quite like the colour of any other people anywhere in the world. These island people are very like you and me, except for one thing. They haven’t forgotten how to do magic. They make a thick red sort of paste from mud and plants and do magic with it. It can make blind people see, and make ill people well; it can make weak men strong and strong men weak. These people also love elephants. They call them ‘living rocks'. They work with elephants, using them to move trees and boulders and carry heavy things from one place to another.

They use elephants instead of bulldozers and tractors and lorries. And the elephants are happy because the island people understand them and are gentle with them. The biggest and oldest elephant of all the ones in Sumbawa is called Paw-Paw. He is a great bull who, at the time that all this happened, was nearly seventy years old. Being so old, he'd got tired eyes and raggedy ears and his tusks had got blotches of black and yellow on them. But he was still extremely strong and had feet the size of cushions. He was the leader of all the elephants on the island, and the people treated him like a very old grandfather (which he was) who had to be watched over, and listened to.

On the day of the earthquake, when Komodo was split in half, Paw-Paw heard the dragons. Well, he didn't actually hear them, because their. island is about 20 miles away. But he felt them. What he felt was their fear. And they were very afraid, because they knew they would die without any food, and because they knew that if they died, then there would be no more dragons left on the Earth, anywhere, at all. The others didn’t feel the dragons because they were too busy. But PawPaw did, because, being very old, he was used to spending a lot of time sitting in the sunshine and the dust, just feeling. Of course, he couldn't tell the island people what the matter was, but he could show them. And he did show them by going to the water's edge and

standing in the sea, flapping his ears, stamping his feet and trumpeting as loud as he could. Because he was their leader, all the other elephants, the younger bull elephants and the she-elephants and all the little calf elephants and all the normally rebellious in between age, teenage elephants came and did the same. They flapped and stamped and trumpeted until, finally, the greyish-brown men understood that they had to get their boats, which are long and narrow and black with light and dark brown sails, and set out. They didn’t know where they were going or what they were looking for, but they set sail anyway. And when they got to Komodo they understood at once what had happened and

sailed quickly back - arguing over how best they could help the dragons. Eventually they agreed a plan and set to work, hammering and sawing and tying until they had joined together six of their boats into a raft which could carry twenty elephants without sinking. The next morning they set sail as the sun rose, with Paw-Paw in the middle of this strange craft. Once at Komodo the men and the elephants set to work at once. Somehow the elephants knew what to do. All day they worked shifting rocks and boulders loosened in the earthquake, pushing and pulling and rolling them into the shallow water between the two halves of the island, until at tea-time they had built a narrow rock path joining the two parts of the island. As men and elephants clambered exhausted back onto the raft, the dragons began in a mad, hungry rush to cross the newly-bridged

channel between their island and the one with the food on. All of a sudden, Paw-Paw felt the weight of their fear lift from the dragons. And as they sailed back into the setting sun towards Sumbawa and home, Paw-Paw lifted his head high and let out one long, low trumpeting call and the dragons stopped eating for a moment, and lifting their heads too, and answered with a silent thank-you. The dragons are still on Komodo, and I hear that Paw-Paw, who is now nearly eighty, is still alive but sits nearly all day quietly but watchfully, in the sun and the dust. Though very occasionally he does have a bath.