5 Places That Will Remind You of Jurassic Park
Stepping into a natural history museum and coming face-to-face with the real-life fossilized remains of dinosaurs, or even animatronic models, can be an adventure. But there’s only so far that one’s imagination can stretch to help us envision these long-lost creatures springing to life and bridging the gap between past and present.
When the first Jurassic Park film first came out 30 years ago, its release ignited a wave of dinosaur enthusiasm which still burns bright today. The subsequent sequels, animated TV show and incursions into video games, has helped inspire dinosaur enthusiasts and provided a boost to the realms of paleontology. For people of all ages, dinosaurs never fail to provoke awe and admiration, and this fad has endured the test of time (metaphorically speaking).
While we don’t yet have the means to clone the dinosaurs which appear in Jurassic Park, we can recreate a similar vibe by getting up close and personal with other giant animal. So, rather than becoming a meal for a T-rex or spinosaur, we can still visit certain islands and locations which provide a semblance of living in a modern-day Jurassic Park filled with beasts from a bygone era.
1. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
In the Galapagos Islands, massive giant tortoises trot majestically à la triceratops while marine iguanas resemble miniature Godzillas. There is even a yellow-orange land iguana living alongside a “newly discovered” pink and black species.
This is definitely the closest you would get to visiting Jurassic Park geographically. The Jurassic Park film series was set in Isla Sorna, a fictional island off Costa Rica in Central America, while the Galapagos archipelago can be found off the coast of the nearby nation of Ecuador in South America.
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Just like the behemoths of the film, none of these miniature dinosaurs appear to fear humans, a characteristic which stems from their having evolved in an island without predators. Sadly, this trait was fatal to the dodo of the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, where humans ate them to extinction.
This is also where Charles Darwin conducted a lot of his research and therefore key to understanding evolution. Visitors to the islands are also offered a plethora of opportunities to see penguins and a myriad of bird species.
While the dinosaur in the Jurassic Park film series might be a “manmade” destroyer of ecosystems, ironically this natural Jurassic Park faces its own challenges thanks to introduced species such as feral goats, dogs and other invasive plant species. Meanwhile, there is also a captive breeding program to help the tortoise population recuperate at the Charles Darwin Research Station so future generations can witness the unique Galapagos that has evolved over millions of years.
Amongst the creatures reminiscent of the beasts which inhabited Jurassic Park are marine iguanas which have made their home in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. (Maridav / Adobe Stock)
2. Komodo Island, Indonesia
The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard in existence today and it lives in the Indonesian rainforest islands of Komodo, Rinca and Flores. While a full-grown dragon resembles a predatory dinosaur akin to a T-Rex or the velociraptor, the Komodo dragon hunts deer, buffaloes and boar, and also engages in cannibalism.
Juvenile Komodo dragon’s take to climbing trees to avoid being eaten by adults that stay more on the ground. While they don’t have venom glands, they do possess poisonous bacteria in their mouths. Although their preferred way to hunt is to swallow their prey whole, the Komodo dragon’s flickering forked tongue is very intimidating.
Flores made headlines two decades ago when the extinct Hobbit-like diminutive hominid, Homo floresiensis, was discovered and believed to be the basis of a local legend of tiny people known as Ebu Gogo. Another blast from the past!
The local legends claim that large Komodo dragons swim in the sea and engage in combat with saltwater crocodiles. If the dragon is defeated, they return to the land and remain in dragon form. But if the dragon is victorious, it transforms into a crocodile.
Due to the extremely aggressive nature of the Komodo dragon, visitors to this modern-day Jurassic Park must hire an experienced ranger to witness the intimidating velociraptor-like reptile in action.
The Komodo dragon of the Indonesian rainforest islands of Komodo, Rinca and Flores. (ChaoticDesignStudio / Adobe Stock)
3. Stephen’s Island, New Zealand
New Zealand’s largest reptile evolved 220 million years ago. While tuataras are not dinosaurs, they are primeval relatives who have outlived the dinosaurs. Actual dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.
Tuataras have a primitive and mysterious feature in the form of a so-called third eye on top of their heads. The purpose of this eye is unknown. Its slicing jaw enables it to eat a variety of prey species and it is mostly nocturnal. Tuataras live long and take 10 to 20 years to reach breeding age.
These ancient creatures are more cold-tolerant than other reptiles, having evolved in this windy southern land. They were once more widespread on New Zealand, but the arrival of Polynesian rats—brought over by humans—caused tuataras to go extinct on the mainland. The tuatara is now restricted to 32 offshore islands.
Local Maori legends holds that tuataras serve as Waitaki or “guardians of knowledge”, and are messengers to Whiro, a god of death and destruction. Māori women are forbidden from eating tuataras.
A tuatara is a reptile native to 32 islands off New Zealand. (CB / Adobe Stock)
4. Dampier Dinosaur Footprints, Western Australia
Until recently, the Dampier dinosaur footprints nestled within a remote part of Western Australia remained a sacred secret held solely by the Goolarabooloo Aboriginal community. To aboriginal tribes, these engravings etched upon the sandstone canvas were not merely footprints but the sacred imprints of Mara, the revered Emu Man and a deity of creation.
Spanning over 50 kilometers (31 miles) along the rugged coastline, the pathways of prehistoric dinosaurs which once roamed the area provide a glimpse into the prehistoric past. They are also etched into songlines that tell their dreamtime history (creation story).
Known as the Dinosaur Coast or Australia’s Jurassic Park, due to the concentration of well-preserved dinosaur footprints found there, up to seven different dinosaur species have been successfully identified at Dampier Peninsula. The largest is 5 feet and 9 inches (1.75 m) long, making it as big as an adult human.
5. Nichinan Salamander Grove, Japan
The remote antediluvian-looking Nichinan region hosts the Japanese giant salamander that lies submerged in crystal clear streams and lives for a hundred years. In addition to its dragon-like appearance, the serene forest emanates a prehistoric vibe. Salamanders are amphibian-like frogs and from a more ancient lineage than reptiles.
A 1952 law established that they cannot be hunted or even touched without a license, as the giant salamander had been designated a special natural monument. The salamander is 6 feet (1.83 m) in length; much smaller than a T-Rex, but big enough for us and comparably breathtaking no doubt. It can also be compared to a legendary Pokémon from a Japanese perspective! Definitely another ancient creature that stood the test of time and which can still be seen firsthand.
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Giant Japanese salamander. (Martin / Adobe Stock)
So, until the day comes when we can truly resurrect dinosaurs, we will have to find solace in these substitute encounters that mirror the dinosaur-filled Jurassic Park world. These instances allow us a taste of the awe that might engulf us when, if ever, we stride amidst these ancient giants. However, these experiences also serve to remind us that sometimes real life can be just as magnificent as the realms of our imagination.
Top image: Imagine the excitement of coming up close and personal with the beasts of Jurassic Park. Source: Garrett / Adobe Stock
By Avi Kumar