Komodo dragon conservation efforts prove controversial — and dangerous — in Indonesia
Komodo dragon conservation efforts prove controversial in Indonesia
August 25, 2008
Efforts to protect a giant reptile upset local humans.
Efforts to conserve the world’s largest lizard — the Komodo dragon — are proving controversial, and potentially dangerous to villagers, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Locals on the Indonesian island of Komodo say regulations pushed by environmentalists have increased conflict between dragons and people, putting both at greater risk.
The paper reports that on the advice of Putri Naga Komodo, a local subsidiary of The Nature Conservancy, authorities have banned the hunting of deer — the primary food source for dragons — and prohibited the ownership of dogs, which traditionally keep dragons away from villages. Meanwhile the park officials have yet to build protective fences around villages.
Villagers blame these factors for last year’s death of a 9-year-old boy. The child was killed by a dragon lurking near a village.
Komodo dragon in Indonesia. Photo by Rhett Butler.
While attacks on humans are rare and there is no evidence to suggest they are increasing, the villagers complain that conservation measures have “destroyed Komodo’s age-old symbiosis between dragon and man,” writes Yaroslav Trofimov. A taboo on hunting of dragons — which are believed to be reincarnations of relatives — may be a large part of why the dragons have survived on Komodo and a few neighboring islands but not elsewhere. As part of their tradition, villagers regularly left deer parts and goats tied to a post as a sacrifice to dragons (and to attract tourists), but the practice was banned by the new park rules. Although dragons lost a source of food, the ban on hunting will have a bigger impact: depletion of deer on Komodo is probably the biggest threat to dragon populations other than disease. Rapid population growth on the island has put people in greater conflict with the giant reptiles over land and resources. Further, until the dragon feedings were banned, the booming tourism industry may have encouraged dragons to associate people with food, thereby bringing them down from their hillside habitat into villages.
For its part, The Nature Conservancy’s Chief Communications Officer James R. Petterson says its program is still evolving and that “any concern expressed by the villagers will be taken seriously.”