News / Asia

Indonesia Markets Rare Lizard as Tourist Draw

One of Indonesia's rare Komodo dragons. The three-meter-long, 90-kilogram creature lumbers toward the beach at the Komodo National Park, Indonesia.
One of Indonesia's rare Komodo dragons. The three-meter-long, 90-kilogram creature lumbers toward the beach at the Komodo National Park, Indonesia.

Indonesia is promoting the Komodo dragon as a tourism draw, hoping the rare creatures will bring new income and attention to the Komodo National Park where they run wild.

As a gentle breeze rustles tree leaves on Komodo Island, tourists talk in whispers and snap pictures of one of the world’s largest lizards. The three-meter-long, 90-kilogram creature lumbers toward the beach while park rangers stand guard with long sticks to ensure it does not turn on a visitor.

Komodo National Park is home to around 2,500 Komodo dragons. Comprising four small islands in eastern Indonesia, the park is the only place where visitors can see today’s modern dinosaurs in the wild.  

That makes it potentially a prime tourist destination. But because the park is not as well known as the Indonesian island of Bali, and because the Komodo islands are difficult to get to, tourist numbers have been below expectations.

Of the 7 million foreign tourists who visited Indonesia in 2010, most went to Bali. Only around 45,000 made the trek to Komodo National Park. This year the Ministry of Tourism expects that figure to grow by 20 percent.

The reason for their optimism is that the park was recently listed among the 28 finalists for the world’s new seven natural wonders. People vote for their favorite candidate by global poll, with the winners announced in November.

Among the other finalists are Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Vietnam’s Halong Bay, and the Galapagos Islands.

Komodo National Park is already recognized by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a world heritage site, but officials say being among the seven wonders would draw more attention to Indonesia and more money to the thousands of villagers living in the park.

Esthy Reko Astuty is the director of promotions at the Tourism Ministry.

"It will make that destination more popular, and it will invite more tourists to come to Komodo National Park," says Astuty. "Of course it will also impact the local people since the tourists will not only come to the destination, they will also spend their money for the accommodation and also for the merchandise or souvenir."

Indonesia Markets Rare Lizard as Tourist Draw
Indonesia Markets Rare Lizard as Tourist Draw

Komodo dragons can swim and climb trees and rely on the element of surprise when hunting. They have small but lethal teeth, capable of crunching bones, hooves and hides. They eat almost all of their victims, which include other Komodo dragons. Their acute sense of smell leads them to prey, which they inject with venom that kills slowly.

To stay safe, rangers warn visitors against separating from the group, making too much noise and getting too close to lounging lizards. "Don’t run, don’t run. She’s a female, an aggressive female," warns one ranger.

They also tell cautionary tales about tourists who have not obeyed instructions. In 1974 a Swiss man disappeared and only his camera bag was found.  

Increased publicity alone may not be enough to significantly increase tourism in the country, however. For years Indonesia has failed to draw as many tourists as neighboring Thailand and Malaysia because it lacks vital infrastructure, such as hotels and efficient transportation.

Officials recognize the constraints, but they believe Komodo’s white beaches and array of indigenous wildlife make it ripe for more visitors.

But, as in other developing countries with rich natural environments, the government must balance economic need with efforts to protect the fragile Komodo environment.

Andi Kefi, who manages the ecosystem at Komodo National Park, worries that the park is a conservation area where there is already an established community. If the community continues to grow, he says, the Komodo habitat will be damaged.

Andi Kefi, Komodo National Park.
Andi Kefi, Komodo National Park.

He hopes the regional government works quickly to improve infrastructure in Labuan Bajo, the city closest to Komodo, and provide support to the rangers and forestry police who enforce rules against disturbing the dragons.

The national park system has partnered with the San Diego Zoo in the United States on a Komodo Survivor Program, which tracks and monitors the lizards and takes a hands-off approach to preserving their natural habitat.

All the Komodo dragons receive an ID tag in their right thigh, which records their weight and size. Rangers periodically trap the lizards and compare the data to records to better understand how the dragons are faring.

Kefi is concerned that food shortages could lead to competition between the lizards and the humans who rely on the park’s deer and buffalo. But villagers on the main islands of Komodo and Rinca say they have learned to live in peace with the lizards, thanks in part to a legend about a dragon princess, which has fostered respect for the creatures.

They also have found ways to earn money by selling Komodo dragon woodcarvings and souvenirs to tourists.

Fisherman Ali Mudar says he sees how the people could benefit from more tourism. During the next 10 years, if new people come to the island, there will continue to be progress, he says.

But for now, he will keep selling fish - always keeping a watchful eye for a Komodo dragon lurking in the distance.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama, Modi Announce Breakthrough on Nuclear Deal

Deal resolves differences over liability of suppliers to India in event of a nuclear accident, U.S. demands on tracking whereabouts of material supplied to country More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid