Komodo Island Tourism Cut Because Criminals Are Stealing Dragons
The Indonesian government is temporarily shutting off tourist access to Komodo Island in January 2020 after an illegal smuggling operation of Komodo Dragons was revealed by East Java Police.
The closure of Komodo Island to the public was triggered by the uncovering of a network of smugglers who had taken 41 of the large monitors from the East Nusa Tenggarra (NTT) region.
The East Java Police force stated that the criminal network had managed to smuggle the lizards out of Indonesia and were selling them internationally for approximately $US35,000 each.
Head of the special crimes unit, Senior Commissioner Akhmad Yusep, told reporters that police had managed to rescue four baby dragons during an attempt to smuggle the monitors into Singapore.
"The criminals intended to ship the animals to three countries in Southeast Asia through Singapore," said Yusep.
Yusep stated that one of the key suspects in the smuggling ring was still on the run.
The dragons had originally been smuggled off the Island of Flores in NTT but the population on Komodo is a concentrated community of 5,700 monitors and is listed as a World Heritage Site.
The Governor of NTT, Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat, has made a public statement calling for the return of the dragons, asserting that they are an "illegal purchase".
Laiskodat added that police may be assigned to Komodo National Park if necessary.
The Komodo dragon is the largest living lizard species in the world and can grow up to three metres long.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the dragon as an endangered species, with hunting and habitat loss presenting the most significant threats to their survival.
An NTT spokesperson stated that the Environment and Forestry Ministry will use the closure time to improve the conservation of the lizards on Komodo, as well as establishing more native flora on the island. However, it is unclear at this point how long Komodo Island will be cut off from public access.