To protect Komodo Island’s titular dragon, the Indonesian government wants to limit the number of tourists allowed to visit there — and the qualification to get in will be coughing up a hefty price tag.
The new plan comes after officials’ announcement this year that the island would be closed to all tourism for the entirety of 2020, which residents of the island pushed back against. They argued that the loss of tourism revenue with the original plan to close Komodo to tourists entirely would hurt the local economy.
With the new initiative, those wishing to visit the island in UNESCO-recognized Komodo National Park will need to buy a premium annual membership for $1,000, according to reporting by the BBC. Travelers with a non-premium membership will be directed to alternative Komodo-dragon-inhabited destinations, like nearby Rinca Island.
Additional plans include building a Komodo Research Center on the island as well as restructuring protocols for yacht tourism. The government has promised a budget of more than the equivalent of $7 million for the conservation efforts.
Komodo dragons, the world’s largest living lizards, are under threat on Komodo Island for a range of issues. Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat, the governor of East Nusa Tenggara province, told Tempo newspaper that a decline in the island’s deer population could be to blame. The dragons are also stolen and sold overseas (for about $35,000 each) for medical purposes.
Protecting the scaly creatures may be in the best interest of tourists and locals (and the dragons) alike. According to Collin O’Mara, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, more animals means more tourist dollars.
“Countries that have healthier wildlife populations by far have stronger tourism economies," he said. “As more and more folks are choosing destinations based on photos they see on Instagram, the communities that have healthier resources and charismatic wildlife are going to reap the benefits.”
When it comes to the Indonesian government’s plans for conservation, O’Mara hopes they’ll turn to the right experts to develop the best strategy.
“The key is making sure that biologists and local wildlife managers are making decisions around the level of human interaction, rather than a government official,” O’Mara said. The goal is to provide "sufficient protection for the species and their habitat, to make sure they continue to mate and procreate, make sure we’re not altering the habitat they need for their food supply.”
There can be a balance between protecting a species and its habitat, and welcoming tourists. O’Mara cites building structures like birding platforms or towers to give tourists views of the dragons while keeping all parties involved safe.
As far as the $1,000 price tag goes, O’Mara hopes that the money goes toward Komodo dragon habitat conservation, but also believes a less-expensive ticket through a lottery system would be a more equitable option for tourists.
“I don’t think wildlife should be a privilege of the rich," he said. “We all should have equal access.”