Indonesia eyes komodo dragon island closure to thwart smuggling

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JAKARTA, April 4, 2019 (BSS/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 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 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,
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.

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

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.

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