No decision yet on closing Komodo island, Indonesia says

A Komodo dragon searching the shore area of Komodo island for prey. The threat to the Komodo dragon was highlighted after police in East Java foiled an attempt to smuggle 41 Komodo dragons. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (DPA) - The Indonesian government is delaying a decision on whether to prohibit public access to Komodo island, home to the fierce Komodo dragon, the country's Environment Ministry said on Monday (April 8).

The government of East Nusa Tenggara province wants it to be closed for a year, starting January 2020, as part of conservation efforts.

The Forestry and Environment Ministry, the national science institute, conservation groups and the tourism association are studying the proposal, said ministry spokesman Djati Witjaksono Hadi.

"The team will work until July, after that they will report to the minister," he said. "It's a complex issue and cannot just be decided by the local government."

He said any closure would affect only Komodo island, not the larger area that makes up Komodo National Park.

The threat to the Komodo dragon was highlighted this month after police in East Java foiled an attempt to smuggle 41 Komodo dragons.

The local government said the closure would allow the planting of more trees and more food to grow for the giant lizard.

Komodo National Park, home to more than 5,000 Komodo dragons, is listed by National Geographic as one of the world's top 10 destinations.

It receives more than 10,000 visitors per month.

Last year, East Nusa Tenggara's governor proposed that visitors be charged US$500 (S$680) to enter the island, in order to boost the prestige of the conservation area.

Visitors are currently charged 150,000 rupiah (S$14.35) for access to the park.

The government has floated the idea of limiting access to only 5,000 visitors per month, in an effort to ramp up security following a fire last year believed to have been sparked by a tourist's improperly discarded cigarette.

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