Home to azure waters, lush rainforests and nearly 2,000 of the world’s largest living lizard, it’s easy to see why Komodo Island is such a tourist trap.
The famous Indonesian island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, brought in a whopping 176,000 tourists in 2018 – up from 44,000 people in 2008.
In July this year, the government announced the island would be closed to tourists for 12 months as of January 2020 to protect its reptile inhabitants.
Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat, Governor of East Nusa Tenggara, said ongoing tourism would interfere in the mating and hatching processes of the Komodo dragon population.
Komodo National Park
Fast forward two months and the governor has announced the island will not be closing but will instead be available only to members.
“People will have to become members and pay US$1,000 to enter for a year,” he said. “I think that’s cheap.”
Entry to the island currently sits at US$10.
“Only people with deep pockets are allowed to [see Komodo dragons]. Those who don’t have the money shouldn’t visit the park since it specifically caters to extraordinary people.”
The cancellation of the ban has left many questioning the government’s long-term vision for the park.
According to government figures, the island is currently home to 1,727 of the giant lizards, which can grow up to 3 metres long and typically weigh between 70-90 kilograms.
Rinca, a neighbouring island in the national park is home to another 1,049 dragons.
Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar told Reuters the number of dragons on Komodo Island remained relatively stable between 2002-19 and there is no threat of a decline.
“We will just turn it into a world-class holiday destination,” she added in a statement.
The environment ministry expects to open a new Komodo dragon research centre in the park, as well as promising to revamp other surrounding tourist spots.