Indonesia eyes komodo dragon island closure to thwart smuggling

A komodo dragon at The Komodo Island National Park, in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia.
A komodo dragon at The Komodo Island National Park, in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA (AFP) - 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 (April 4).

The proposed closure, which is awaiting central government approval, would start from 2020 but does not apply to nearby islands where the giant 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 3m in length. An adult typically weighs from 70kg to 90kg.

"Mass tourism is already happening on Komodo Island and it's really disturbing," local tourism agency head Marius Ardu Jelamu told AFP.

"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, Mr 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," Mr 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 US$500 (S$675) to see the dragons, about 50 times the current entrance fee.

Security would be tightened to prevent bids to smuggle the endangered lizard, Mr Jelamu said.

Last week, police in East Java foiled an attempt to smuggle five komodo dragons, and arrested a group of traffickers linked to the case.

Those dragons were not smuggled from the national park, however, according to the environment ministry.