Komodo dragon is the world’s largest existed lizard that continued the descendants of the Varanidae family. Since the Komodo dragon was first documented in 1912 by Steyn van Hensbroek, an official of the Dutch Colonial Administration in Flores, there have been numerous studies on that giant lizard and the stories keep spreading throughout the world. Living on Komodo and the neighbouring islands of Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands, this giant reptile is considered as an endangered animal.
The establishment of Komodo National Park in 1980 was initially a great effort of the Indonesian government to protect the existence of Komodo dragons. This conservation site for Komodo dragons has also received recognition from UNESCO and was designated as World Heritage Site in 1991. Besides Komodo, the national park since then has also protected the overall biodiversity area, both in the terrestrial and marine.
However, along with the success story of the conservation, there is also a successful story of tourism. The fascination and excitement that the Komodo dragons share have attracted a large number of tourists to visit Komodo Island. In 2018 alone, there are 176.000 of international and domestic visitors as a whole. Unfortunately, the number is too high that it has threatened the Komodo dragon. Besides causing over-tourism, the mass promotion of the Komodo dragon has also triggered a number of environmental problems, attracted the attention of illegal wildlife traffickers and caused many dragons to be stolen from their origin islands and sold to the black market.
Following these problems, the regional and national government has taken a serious step to protect the habitat of Komodo dragons. Since January this year (2019), there have been discussions that lead to the closure of Komodo Island in order to revitalize the dragons’ homes. The plan was to shut the tourism activities down starting from January 2020 until an undetermined time.
On the one hand, tourism could seriously bring the Komodo dragon into extinction. But, on the other hand, without tourists coming to Komodo Island, the conservation site will not survive. Tourism will always be the main support to fund the conservation of the Komodo dragon. As the backbone of NTT’s economy, in fact, it has ever reached a total revenue of IDR 32 billion in one year (data of 2018).
The challenge to run the tourism and economic sector while conserving nature has put the Indonesian government in dilemma. After other official meetings on the national scale, the government has finally cancelled the plan to close Komodo Island. Instead of banning the tourists to come, the government decided to limit the visitors by applying new regulations. To minimize the number of tourists but still maintain the amount of income, only the holders of exclusive annual member card that have access to Komodo Island. (more info will be published soon).
In spite of everything, Komodo dragons are playing a big role in the ecosystem. Komodo dragon (Vanarus komodoensis) is the apex predator in the food chain and also is a scavenger that clears the recently perished animals from the environment. Therefore, it is not only the responsibility of the national government and international organizations alone to protect Komodo dragons, local communities and tourists must also contribute to protect Komodo dragons as the wealth that belongs to this earth.
We all have a responsibility to protect endangered species, both for their sake and for the sake of our own future generations.