Indonesia:Conservation awareness takes root in Komodo.

 Hunters burning savannas, capturing baby dragons

 Conservationawareness takes root in Komodo

published by THE JAKARTA POST, Labuhan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara ,6 May 2003

The Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara has come into the lime light recently, thanks to a debate on a controversial proposal to privatize its management for the next 25 years. The Jakarta Post staff writer Pandaya recently visited the park on the invitation of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the U.S. non-governmental organization that developed the proposal.

A related article by Bernard Day of Komodo Watch gives an idea of what critics are saying about the proposed privatisation.

A dozen European tourists in jungle-trekking gear marched silently down the forested hills. Sweaty and red after a four-kilometre walk under the scorching sun, the men and women of the group were visibly happy.

 “Did you encounter any Komodo dragons?” a member of the next group into the jungle asked one of the returning trekkers.

“Only one,” replied a camera-toting woman in passing. The two groups kept going on their ways in silence, hoping to catch a glimpse of a giant lizard or two on their way.

Over the years, small groups of mostly eco-tourists have devoted several days of their holidays in Indonesia to visit Komodo Island and the neighbouring chain of islands that make up the 1,817 hectare Komodo National Park.

The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), which is found nowhere else in the wild, is the main reason people visit the park. The giant, carnivorous lizard, which grows up to three meters long and weighs 80 kilograms, is a legally protected species.

Still, the park that the Indonesian government established in 1984 offers much more than the dragon.

The beautiful sprawling islands, which is highly popular among nature-loving Western tourists, is little known to the comparatively less affluent Indonesian holidaymakers.

The breathtaking landscape, clear waters, pristine beaches and colourful underwater life in many areas of the island chain have lured divers and holidaymakers from around the world.

Located between the islands of Sumbawa in West Nusa Tenggara and Flores in East Nusa Tenggara, the park covers an area of 1,817 square kilometres, 603 sq km of which is land.

Home to priceless terrestrial and marine biodiversity, the area was declared a national park in 1980. In 1986, the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) declared the part a World Heritage Site, as well as a Man and Biosphere Reserve.

In the beginning, the park was meant to be a sanctuary for the Komodo dragon, which lives on the three main islands of the park — Komodo, Rinca and Flores.

In addition to the Komodo dragon, however, the national park is also home to other terrestrial species such as the Timor deer, which is the dragon’s staple food, and an endemic rat and the orange-footed fowl.

The park also boasts one of the world’s best marine environments, comprising oral reefs, mangrove forests, seaweed beds and semi-enclosed bays. The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which has been active in the park since 1995, says the marine habitat harbors over 1,000 species of fish, 260 reef-building coral species and 70 sponge species. Dugongs, sea turtles, whales, dolphins and manta rays also call the park their home.

Unfortunately, like national parks throughout Indonesia, Komodo National Park as been threatened by poaching and destructive fishing practices.

The hunters usually come out during the dry season, burning the savannas, shooting cornered deer and capturing baby dragons. They also target deer, wild boars and wild buffaloes — the dragon’s main prey. Fishermen use destructive fishing methods, such as cyanide on ornamental fish and dynamite, which destroy coral reefs, the fish’s habitat and the keystone organism of the marine ecosystem.

Forest rangers say poachers trap baby dragons and smuggle them out of the forests hidden in PVC pipes and are shipped among other goods on fishing oats, and are sold to wealthy people who keep them as exotic pets.

Rangers say that the hunters and dynamite fishermen who traverse the park, mostly from neighboring Sumbawa Island to the west, are armed and dangerous.

Since security in Komodo park has been tightened, skirmishes between poachers and security forces have been frequent. In 2000, 40 fishermen were arrested and 14 boats impounded. The traditional fishermen and hunters have accused the security forces of robbing them of their livelihood.

The marine habitat is also damaged by pollution, which is caused by the exhaust fumes, organic waste and chemicals from the motorized boats that are the main form of inter-island transportation.

The park management and TNC have focused their efforts on an information campaign for local residents to raise awareness and educate them on conservation, better law enforcement and breeding stocks of commercial fish, such as groupers and mangrove snatchers, to mend the situation.

Many fishermen have lent their support to proposed collaboration schemes, as TNC and government’s information campaign began to bear fruit, seen in the public’s better awareness of conservation and in the decrease in destructive fishing methods.

“We residents of Manggarai welcome the initiative. If there is any objection to the collaboration, they must be fishermen from areas like Sape and Palue, who can no longer dynamite fish,” said Antonius Hantam, one of a dozen community leaders that TNC introduced to the media to voice their views on the park’s conservation.

Fishermen living within the park who have thrown their weight behind the TNC-government joint effort have reported encouraging results, such as more catch and less destructive fishing practices.

“We began to realize that using cyanide and bombing fish meant we were destroying the source of our own livelihood,” said Abu Lahar of Papagaran village.

Many remain worried, however, that unless the law is properly enforced, the World Heritage Site would continue to lose its valuable resources.


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