Indonesia has confirmed it will close the island of Komodo to the public from January, to try to conserve the world’s largest living lizard species.
The plan will also involve moving about 2000 villagers off the island.
Josef Nae Soi, deputy governor of the province of East Nusa Tenggara, said authorities were talking with community leaders about how to relocate residents,
“We have to save Komodo dragons from extinction, that’s the point,” Mr Soi told Reuters in July.
It is thought there are about 1700 of the giant lizards on Komodo. But their numbers have been reduced in recent years by poaching and the pressure of visitor numbers.
It is hoped that closing the island will cut the risk of poaching, as well as allow a recovery in the numbers of the Komodo dragons’ preferred prey, including deer, buffalo and wild boar.
Tourist numbers to the island have boomed in recent years, with more than 176,000 visitors to Komodo National Park, a conservation area between the islands of Sumbawa and Flores, in 2018. The region was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
Mr Soi said the closure would last at least 12 months. The island might reopen after that, but the plan was then to make it a premium tourist destination.
There had been suggestions the Indonesian government might start charging an entry fee of $500 to try to limit tourist numbers on Komodo. But Mr Soi said no fee had been decided.
The closure plan has upset locals, including wildlife guide Rizaldian Syahputra, who make their living taking visitors to Komodo National Park.
“If we really have to do it, I hope we can find a middle ground on the solution, not closing the whole island but just a certain area,” he said.
Mr Syahputra said he did not know how he would make a living if the island was closed.
Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper reports that villagers who have lived on Komodo for generations are also worried about the plan.
“We have been living as one for years with this village,” resident Dahlia, who gave only one name, said.
“The graves of my father and ancestors are here. If we move, who will take care of those graves?”
More than 1400 of Komodo dragons also live on other islands in the national park, including nearby Rinca and Padar. Those islands will remain open to tourists.