In recent months, Indonesia began development on a $6.5 million Jurassic Park-style revamp to their Komodo National Park on Rinca Island. Instead of dinosaurs, though, the park is home to Komodo dragons. The beasts are now butting heads with park construction.
In a photo released by local activist collective Save Komodo Now, a Komodo dragon is seemingly facing off against a construction truck. The account has also released pictures of helicopters and large machinery operating in the national park.
“For the first time in history it is no longer a safe haven for the endangered dragon,” said Venan Haryanto, coordinator of research and advocacy with Sunspirit for Justice and Peace, a Save Komodo Now collective organization. “It illustrates how the current development schemes for tourism and business pose serious threats to the life of the dragon and other species.”
Haryanto told Motherboard permits have been granted to private entities wishing to develop on Rinca Island. The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In a letter provided to Motherboard and addressed to UNESCO’s Director General Audrey Azoulay, a collective of civil society organisations are asking for action against the tourism park. The conservation activists are hoping UNESCO officials will visit the park, encourage discussion with the Indonesian government, and meet with development stakeholders.
If no meetings are set the collective is asking UNESCO to remove the island from the World Heritage Site list. The conservationists aslo say they will take matters into their own hands should their wishes be ignored.
“As a consequence, we—the local communities and civil society groups in Flores—will take over the protection of the park and carry out conservation and development efforts in our own ways,” says the letter. “This, we believe, will ensure the safety and sustainability of the Komodo dragon and its ecosystem as well as the communities that have sustained and lived with the dragon for millennia.”
“We argue the whole park should be maintained as it is. All the resorts and hotels should be outside the park,” said Haryanto
Brandon Scott, wildlife care manager of herpetology and ichthyology at the San Diego Zoo told Motherboard in an interview that disruptions to animal habitats, like construction, can have devastating, lasting effects.
“Any big change to an environment does throw a wave through it—how that wave is played out sometimes is unknown for a while. It could be a few weeks, a few months, or a year or two,” said Scott. Often with construction, animal populations are artificially pushed closer together as they move away from construction areas. “Where this one Komodo ruled in a spot for quite some time, and is now pushed into a different Komodo, does he dominate that one or did he get dominated? It’s going to throw social structure off.”
Heavy vibrations from equipment can stress the dragons, making them tense and behave differently, said Scott. This happens because vibrations and loud noises in the wild typically mean a hoofed animal or a dominant, large male is approaching.
These environmental and social changes may cause Komodo dragons living near the site to relocate and come into closer contact with human populations on the island (attacks on humans are extremely rare, however, this has the potential to negatively impact dragon populations).
The park has also been targeted by dragon smugglers and poachers in the past. Komodo dragons are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature—meaning there is a “high risk” of extinction. There are approximately 5,700 dragons left in the world.
Spokespeople for UNESCO did not respond to a request for comment.