Conservationists have warned that Indonesian authorities may threaten the survival of the iconic Komodo Dragon if they push ahead with plans to attract 500,000 tourists to the region in 2019, which would be twice as many as visited last year.
Komodo National Park and its gateway town of Labuan Bajo in eastern Nusa Tenggara region have been listed as tourism growth centers, with the government setting out to create “10 new Balis” so the country can reach a target of 20 million tourists in 2019 — an increase of five million on 2018.
Spanning 29 islands, the park has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization because it is the only place in the world where the dragons are found in the wild. There are believed to be about 5,500 in the park.
But park rangers say there are already too many visitors, with cruise ships bringing in 500 to 1,200 at a time. One said that if more ships arrive, tourists will not be able to see anything, as the dragons become afraid and hide if it is too crowded.
According to a study conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature last year, the park can safely handle about 150,000 divers and 170,000 land visitors annually if it is managed properly. Local tourism officials are also wary of any sudden increase in visitors, warning that the dragons will move elsewhere if their wildlife is damaged.