In Brief

Why tourists have been banned from Komodo dragon island

Problems include smugglers stealing the lizards to sell on Facebook

An Indonesian island that is home to the Komodo dragon is closing its doors to tourists from next January in a bid to prevent illegal smuggling.

Each year thousands of visitors flock to Komodo Island, in East Nusa Tenggara province, to see the giant lizards, but now the authorities say they will shut off access temporarily as part of a conservation effort. It is unclear how long the closure will last but experts believe the project, which will include planting native vegetation to bolster the specie’s food supply, could take up to a year.

The move follows the arrests last month of five people in connection with smuggling Komodo dragons and other protected species out of Indonesia. The suspects are accused of selling at least 41 Komodo dragons abroad via Facebook, for use in traditional medicine, charging the equivalent of £26,500 for each of the rare creatures.

Komodo dragons are the world’s largest living lizards, measuring in at up to three metres long and weighing up to 90kg (14st 2lb). An estimated 5,000 remain in the wild - around half of them on Komodo Island - putting them on both the endangered and protected animals lists.

The species’ rarity has made them a major attraction for visitors to the region. In 2016, the airport that serves the Komodo National Park’s 29 islands underwent a major upgrade to expand its capacity from 150,000 visitors to 1.5 million.

But the increase in tourists has also led to growing pressure on officials to protect the remaining Komodo dragon population, says Sky News

The closure was first proposed last year by East Nusa Tenggara governor Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat, in response to declining numbers both of the giant lizards and the deer they eat.

Part of the problem is that “the predators have allegedly become more docile in recent years, in part because of tourists giving them food”, The Daily Telegraph reports.

“We want Komodo Island to be like the Galapagos Islands... so we need to rehabilitate the flora and fauna,” local tourism agency head Marius Ardu Jelamu told Paris-based news agency AFP.

He added that security measures on the island would be improved during the closure to thwart wildlife smugglers. 

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