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Project sparks fears for Indonesia's Komodo dragons

Protesters claim the Jurassic Park project threatens the habitat of the large lizards

Project sparks fears for Indonesia's Komodo dragons

A Komodo dragon appears in front of a truck carrying materials for the construction of a tourist park called Jurassic Park on Rinca island. The photo has gone viral since it was posted on Oct. 24. (Photo supplied)

A government-sanctioned infrastructure project in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, a habitat for Komodo dragons, is being opposed by people who fear the project will endanger the large lizards.

Protests heated up after a photo of a dragon in front of a truck carrying construction materials for the so-called Jurassic Park on Rinca island, one of the reptile's main habitats, went viral. The hashtag #savekomodo started trending on Twitter.

Gregorius Afioma, director of advocacy group Sunspirit for Justice and Peace, posted the photo on Instagram on Oct. 24. It has been seen by over 285,000 people.

He said the project is against the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s commitment to make the park a conservation area. He also accused authorities of keeping local people away from the area before granting investment permits.

Afioma said the group had criticized the project for a long time and in September sent a letter of protest to UNESCO, which granted the park status as a World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve.

He said the protests have involved tourism representatives, residents, businessmen, naturalists and activists. “For them, the Komodo habitat is a common wealth that needs to be maintained,” he said.

Aloysius Suhartim Karya, coordinator of the Forum of Tourism Rescue Society, cited the decree of the Ministry of Forestry in 1992 and said the project was against conservation rules to keep the area “natural and intact.”

“The development model by concretizing the site destroys its natural landscape and only serves the interests of investors," he said. "The world needs to have a voice because the Komodo dragon does not only belong to Indonesia but the whole world."

Yohanis Fransiskus Lema, a lawmaker representing East Nusa Tenggara province, said the development of the park must not only be based on the economic aspect but also on socio-anthropological and ecological issues.

"The government must be heartened to listen to input from civil society, tourism activists and local communities," he said.

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The national park management issued a letter on Oct. 26 saying that access to the park would be closed until June 2021 while work continues on the project.

Wiratno, director-general of natural resources conservation and ecotourism at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, claimed that the project "does not really" affect the level of survival of Komodo dragons.

"The use of heavy equipment such as trucks and excavators has been carried out with a prudent principle," he said.

The Komodo dragon is an ancient species of lizard left only in Komodo National Park, with the main access to this area via Labuan Bajo on the western tip of Flores island.

Labuan Bajo has been designated by the government as a priority tourist destination where massive development has been carried out. It has been designated as the location for the G20 Summit and ASEAN Summit in 2023.

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