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Indonesia eyes island closure to thwart smuggling of komodo dragon

April 05, 2019

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This Dec 2, 2010, file photo shows a Komodo dragon searching the shore for prey.—AFP
This Dec 2, 2010, file photo shows a Komodo dragon searching the shore for prey.—AFP

JAKARTA: Indonesia may temporarily shut an island that is home to komodo dragons in a bid to fix problems created by mass tourism and thwart attempts to smuggle the world’s biggest lizard, the local tourism agency said on Thursday.

The proposed closure, which is awaiting central government approval, would start from 2020 but does not apply to nearby islands where the giant, slavering carnivores are also found, the agency said.

Thousands of tourists annually descend on the cluster of islands in the eastern part of the sprawling archipelago nation — the only place in the world where komodo dragons can be seen in their natural habitat.

Komodo Island is home to some 2,300 dragons, which can grow to around three metres (10 feet) in length. An adult typically weighs from 70 to 90 kilograms (150 to 200 pounds).

“Mass tourism is already happening on Komodo Island and it’s really disturbing,” local tourism agency head Marius Ardu Jelamu said.

“When there are too many tourists in sensitive areas like Komodo National Park, the dragons can be adversely affected,” he added. Jakarta has agreed in principle to temporarily shutter the national park, Jelamu said.

During the proposed closure, conservationists would work to rehabilitate endemic plants and boost the number of deer, boars and other natural prey.

“We want Komodo Island to be like the Galapagos islands... so we need to rehabilitate the flora and fauna,” Jelamu said.

The move would also include tighter visitor quotas and a new ticketing system that would require tourists to book online ahead of time rather than paying on the spot.

Last year, the provincial governor sparked a controversy when he proposed charging visitors $500 to see the dragons, about 50 times the current entrance fee.

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2019