Well, this is a surprise. Only two years after announcing that Komodo Island was closed to humans – including the 2,000 or so people who had lived there for generations – then quickly reversing that decision for visitors with deep pockets, the government of Indonesia has now hit us with a complete wildcard: a real-life Jurassic Park.
Construction of the ambitious tourism project began last year, but soon drew criticism after a striking photo of a Komodo dragon facing down a truck went viral on social media.
“This is the first time Komodos are hearing the roar of engines and the smell of smoke,” wrote the conservation group Save Komodo Now, who claimed the photo was taken on Rinca Island, inside Komodo National Park.
“What will the future impact of these projects be? Does anyone still care about conservation?”
But the Indonesian government defied wide criticism from environmentalists, and last month officials from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported to a World Heritage Committee conference that the island nation had been ducking their calls lately.
Officials said that they had requested an updated environmental impact assessment from the government, emphasizing the effect that the tourism plans may have on illegal fishing and the destruction of the rare dragons’ (and local humans’) habitats. Although an Indonesian government representative did tell Reuters that a new assessment was in the works, apparently nobody let UNESCO know.
One reason officials – as well as so many others – are concerned is that the exact details of the project are still unknown. While the government has repeatedly said that the project will not pose any danger to the local Komodo dragon population, UNESCO has raised concerns that the new tourist attraction aims to bring around half a million visitors to the island every year – “more than double the pre-COVID-19 pandemic visitor numbers,” the report notes, which “raises the question of how this tourism model fits with the State Party’s vision of moving away from mass tourism to more sustainable approaches.”
There are about 3,100 wild Komodo dragons in Indonesia – and only Indonesia – more than half of whom live on the island that bears their name. At up to 3 meters (10 feet) long, they are the largest species of lizard and largest venomous animal on Earth. Despite being apex predators, they are classified as vulnerable and frequently fall victim to illegal poaching and smuggling. That’s why Komodo National Park was established as a refuge for the majestic beasts more than 30 years ago – and why tensions are so high over the upcoming “Jurassic Park” resort in their homelands.
Despite the ongoing criticisms and concerns, the Indonesian government seems intent on going through with its plans to build what it has called a “premium tourism spot”. And while construction was impacted by the pandemic, it was reported in February that the project is targeted for completion before the G20 summit is held in Bali next year.
“This project will proceed,” Wiratno, a senior official at Indonesia's environment ministry, told Reuters. “It's been proven to have no impact [on the dragons’ habitat].”
It’s not yet clear how the government has reached this conclusion, and locals – who have coexisted with the Komodos for generations – fear the lizards will not cope well with the reduced habitat that the “Jurassic Park” project is likely to cause. Here’s hoping the Indonesian scientists weren’t so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.