‘Endangered’ status should spur Komodo dragon protection: activists

Komodo dragons lounge on Rinca Island, East Nusa Tenggara, on March 29, 2018. - JP

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) recent reclassification of the Komodo dragon, a species endemic to Indonesia, as “endangered” should provide a stronger impetus for the protection of its habitat, activists and experts have said.

In the latest update to its Red List of Threatened Species, the IUCN categorised the Komodo dragon as endangered because of threats related to climate change, noting that the giant lizard’s habitat could be reduced by 30 per cent over the next 45 years due to rising sea levels.

The Komodo dragon was also listed as endangered because of its relatively low population.

The IUCN estimated that the giant lizard’s adult population was about 1,383 and expected that figure to decline by more than 30 per cent over 40 years from the 2010 baseline.

The dragon’s population is concentrated on the islands of Komodo and Rinca, which, along with Padar, Nusa Kode and Gili Motong, form the Komodo National Park in East Nusa Tenggara.

Smaller populations have been observed on the western and northern coasts of the nearby island of Flores. The IUCN assessed more than 130,000 species in its latest Red List update, which was released on Sept 4.

More than 38,000 of those species were categorised as threatened. The IUCN last published the Komodo dragon’s assessment status in 1996, when it declared the species “vulnerable” – a notch below the dragon's current status.

In the report, the IUCN estimated that while the reptile’s population inside Komodo National Park was currently stable and “well-protected”, populations outside the national park were threatened by habitat loss due to “ongoing human activities” on Flores.

In response to the report, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) researcher Evy Ayu Arida said the Komodo dragon’s “endangered” status should serve as a wake-up call for the government to step up its conservation efforts.

“The new ‘endangered’ status for Komodo dragons and the previous Unesco warning on the national park should serve as warnings for the government, which has been less attentive to Komodo dragons,” Evy told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

She was referring to concerns recently outlined by Unesco’s World Heritage Committee over planned development in some parts of Komodo National Park, which the committee warned could threaten the park’s outstanding universal value.

Outstanding universal value is one of the main criteria the committee uses to assess whether a site should be accorded Unesco World Heritage status.

Komodo National Park has been on Unessco’s World Heritage list since 1991. In a report produced after the meeting, the committee urged the government to halt all tourism infrastructure projects in and around the national park, particularly those that had the potential to affect the park’s outstanding universal value, until the government had submitted a revised environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be reviewed by the IUCN.

Local activists, meanwhile, have raised concerns over the potentially harmful impacts of the government’s ambition to turn Komodo National Park into a “premium” tourist destination.

“There should not be a model of mass tourism that hastens climate change,” said Venan Haryanto, a researcher from Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara-based nongovernmental organisation Sunspirit for Justice and Peace.

He called on the government to review its infrastructure plans and take careful steps in the development of the national park. The local population, he added, should also be included in efforts to conserve the Komodo dragon’s habitat.

The government’s plan for the national park began to receive attention last year after a viral photo showed a Komodo dragon appearing to face off against a pair of construction workers, sparking alarm that infrastructure development in the area would come at the cost of endangering the dragon’s habitat.

The government is currently revamping some of the facilities on Rinca Island as part of its efforts to develop the national park and the neighboring city of Labuan Bajo – which is located outside of the park’s boundaries – into premium tourist destinations.

The government has downplayed the impacts of this development. The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s director general for natural resources and ecosystem observation, Wiratno, said construction on Rinca Island was mainly to upgrade existing tourist and conservation facilities on the island.

While acknowledging that the Komodo dragon population was under threat from climate change, Wiratno said that the giant lizard’s population was relatively stable.

“While [the Komodo dragon’s] ecosystem is under threat, the IUCN also pointed out that the [population] inside Komodo National Park is well protected,” Wiratno said.

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