Komodo Weighs Temporary Tourist Ban to Boost Endangered Dragon Numbers

Indonesian officials are concerned about threats to lizard from smuggling and shrinking habitat

Authorities are considering banning tourists from Komodo, the island home of the ancient Komodo dragon, to allow for conservation efforts amid concerns over animal-smuggling.

photo of komodo dragon
Komodo dragon numbers may be declining due to lack of sufficient prey and shrinking habitat on Komodo Island. Photo by Dimitri Dim.

The island, in Manggarai Barat, Indonesia, is a major tourist destination, with many people making the trip to see the lizard, which has a venomous bite, can grow up to three meters long, and weigh more than 150 kilograms.

Authorities are considering a temporary closure so they can plant native vegetation and help to restock the dragon’s food supply, thereby increasing the population, reported the Tempo newspaper. Dates for the closure have not been confirmed but earlier discussions have suggested it could last a year.

The talks come amid efforts to tackle the illegal market in endangered species. Police in East Java arrested five people in March accused of smuggling Komodo dragons and other protected animals. Police said the suspects had already sold more than 41 Komodos through Facebook, supposedly for medicinal use. Tempo reported the lizards sold for 500 million rupiah (£27,000) each.

It is estimated there are about 5,700 Komodo dragons in the wild and the lizard is listed as both endangered and protected. They are found in the wild, primarily on the eastern Indonesian islands of Komodo, Padar, and Rinca.

Komodo is part of the Komodo national park, which also includes two other large land masses, and many smaller islands. The rest of the park will remain open.

Discussions about closing the island have been going on since at least January, when the East Nusa Tenggara governor, Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat, suggested the park may close for a year to increase the population of Komodo dragons and deer, which it eats. The governor said there were concerns that the lizard’s numbers had decreased due to declining prey and shrinking habitat.

The issue of how to manage sustainable tourism levels to the island has been fraught. In 2016, a major upgrade of Labuan Bajo regional airport, which serves the 29 islands that make up the UNESCO-protected park, meant it went from being able to handle 150,000 tourists a year to 1.5 million.

Much is still being learned about the ancient lizard, which was only discovered by Europeans in the early twentieth century. It was not until 2009 that scientists discovered Komodos have a very weak but venomous bite and kill their prey by infecting it and letting it bleed to death.

In 2013, two people were taken to hospital after being attacked by a giant Komodo dragon that wandered into the office of a wildlife park in eastern Indonesia.

You Make Our Work Possible

You Make Our Work Possible

We are standing at a pivotal moment in history, one in which education and advocacy around the climate emergency, public health, racial injustice, and economic inequity is imperative. At Earth Island Journal, we have doubled down on our commitment to uplifting stories that often go unheard, to centering the voices of frontline communities, and to always speak truth to power. We are nonprofit publication. We don’t have a paywall because our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

Donate
Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter.

The Latest

The Things We Find

The wilderness holds our best kept secrets and treasures, throughout all the years of our lives.

Chris Riley

Food as a Portal—to Myself

In my blood is a culture that is inextricable from its food. How could I reclaim this after years of denying myself this birthright?

Ayu Sutriasa

The Elusive Hippos of Zimbabwe’s Hippo Valley

Amid sugarcane fields, small earth dams provide refuge for the water-dependent animals.

Cecil Dzwowa

Climate Denial is Waning on the Right. What’s Replacing it Might be Just as Scary.

The wrapping of ecological disaster with fears of rampant immigration is a narrative that has flourished in far-Right fringe movements in Europe and the US.

Oliver Milman The Guardian

“The Garden Seems to Draw People Together”

Across New York City, community leaders are turning vacant lots into food-producing havens for people and wildlife.

Zachary Schulman

Looking Closely

Examining the beauty and cruelty that abound in nature while acknowledging its inevitable extinction.

Lucille Lang Day