Komodo National Park is a very popular place to visit. It is in a relatively remote part of the Indonesian archipelago and this has led to it being one place on Earth where lizards still rule.
Komodo dragons are fascinating, being the largest remaining living lizards (crocodiles are counted in a separate category to lizards) and having venomous bites.
Unfortunately this is part of the problem. There were 176,000 visitors last year and this is unsustainable. The desire is return it to closer to its natural state as it is currently a natural UNESCO site, but it is under threat due to the number of visitors. This growth in visitor numbers has been very rapid with only 44,000 having come in 2008. With these numbers crowd management is required and generally visitors only get around five minutes with the dragons.
Currently visitors are charged around £8 (or $10) to visit; the plan is to require any visitors become a member, the cost being $1,000. This is obviously a 100 times increase which is a pretty big change overnight. Now this would offer something else, you will have access to the park for a whole year, however given its remoteness that is totally irrelevant as 99% of the visitors will not be able to visit more than once or twice.
People are saying that this reduction in numbers is likely to lead to better care of the National Park, however this must be balanced against the needs of the few people who visit. Quite reasonably if you are paying $1,000, five minutes close to the dragons will not be enough. As such, more facilities will be required on the nearest islands, or if this isn’t allowed cruise ships anchoring close by for longer periods.
The point is that the tourists are only having a limited impact on the island of Komodo, there may be many of them but they are are concentrated into an area that only covered 3 or 4% of the island. The governor has also pointed to concern over the population of deer, a primary food source of the dragons, but this concern appears completely incorrect – with little or any poaching or hunting going on. Komodo Village also used to be a small place but now there are 2,000 homes there.
The other problem with his plans is that 70% of the local economy is based on the dragons – reduce the number of tourists dramatically and this community will collapse (though given the governor’s plans to leave the island for the dragons perhaps this is the aim – to get the locals to relocate off the island). However researchers are in agreement that at the moment locals not doing any damage to the Komodo dragons.
Despite being three metres long, attacks on humans are rare with only 15 recorded in the last decade and only one of these proving fatal. The governor believes that the island has become too tame and wishes visitors to feel like they are in the wild place again – his argument was bolstered by the discovery of a local smuggling operation which managed to steal 45 dragons before it was stopped
This plan has been tried before back in the 1970s and did not go well. A documentary on the Komodo dragons called ‘Living with the Dragons’ was aired on the 25th of July at 10:30 on BBC World News.