Indonesia eyes komodo dragon island closure to thwart smuggling

Visitors trek the hills on Rinca island, home of the Komodo dragon, in the Komodo National Park in this December 3, 2010 file photo. (AFP)
Updated 04 April 2019
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Indonesia eyes komodo dragon island closure to thwart smuggling

  • The proposed closure would start from 2020 but does not apply to nearby islands where the giant lizards are also found
  • Komodo Island is home to some 2,300 dragons, which can grow to around three meters in length

JAKARTA: Indonesia may temporarily shut an island that is home to komodo dragons in a bid to fix problems created by mass tourism and thwart attempts to smuggle the world’s biggest lizard, the local tourism agency said Thursday.
The proposed closure, which is awaiting central government approval, would start from 2020 but does not apply to nearby islands where the giant, slavering carnivores are also found, the agency said.
Thousands of tourists annually descend on the cluster of islands in the eastern part of the sprawling archipelago nation — the only place in the world where komodo dragons can be seen in their natural habitat.
Komodo Island is home to some 2,300 dragons, which can grow to around three meters (10 feet) in length. An adult typically weighs from 70 to 90 kilograms (150 to 200 pounds).
“Mass tourism is already happening on Komodo Island and it’s really disturbing,” local tourism agency head Marius Ardu Jelamu said.
“When there are too many tourists in sensitive areas like Komodo National Park, the dragons can be adversely affected,” he added.
Jakarta has agreed in principle to temporarily shutter the national park, Jelamu said.
During the proposed closure, conservationists would work to rehabilitate endemic plants and boost the number of deer, boars and other natural prey.
“We want Komodo Island to be like the Galapagos islands... so we need to rehabilitate the flora and fauna,” Jelamu said.
The move would also include tighter visitor quotas and a new ticketing system that would require tourists to book online ahead of time rather than paying on the spot.
Last year, the provincial governor sparked a controversy when he proposed charging visitors $500 to see the dragons, about 50 times the current entrance fee.
Security would be tightened to prevent bids to smuggle the endangered lizard, Jelamu said Thursday.
Last week, police in East Java foiled an attempt to smuggle five komodo dragons, and arrested a group of traffickers linked to the case.
Those dragons were not smuggled from the national park, however, according to the environment ministry.


At least 161 dead in northeast Congo in apparent ethnic clashes

Updated 17 June 2019
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At least 161 dead in northeast Congo in apparent ethnic clashes

  • A series of attacks in Ituri province has mostly targeted Hema herders, who have long been in conflict with Lendu farmers over grazing rights and political representation
  • Open conflict between Hema and Lendu from 1999-2007 resulted in an estimated 50,000 deaths in one of the bloodiest chapters of a civil war in eastern Congo

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo: At least 161 people have been killed in a northeastern province of Democratic Republic of Congo in the past week, local officials said on Monday, in an apparent resurgence of ethnic clashes between farming and herding communities.
A series of attacks in Ituri province has mostly targeted Hema herders, who have long been in conflict with Lendu farmers over grazing rights and political representation, although the exact identity of the assailants remains murky.
Open conflict between Hema and Lendu from 1999-2007 resulted in an estimated 50,000 deaths in one of the bloodiest chapters of a civil war in eastern Congo that left millions dead from conflict, hunger and disease.
Tit-for-tat attacks between the two groups in late 2017 and early 2018 killed hundreds of people and forced tens of thousands more to flee their homes, but a tenuous calm had taken hold until this month.
Pascal Kakoraki Baguma, a national lawmaker from Ituri, said the latest violence was sparked by the killing last Monday of four Lendu businesspeople.
“Members of the Lendu community believed that these assassinations were the work of the Hema,” Kakoraki said. “This is why they launched several attacks on Hema villages.”
“Sources affirm that 161 bodies have been found so far. But the death toll goes beyond the bodies recovered, as there were other massacres of civilians and police officers,” he said.
Jean Bosco Lalo, president of civil society organizations in Ituri, said 200 bodies had been found since last week in predominantly Hema villages, including the 161 mentioned by Kakoraki. Lalo said the toll would rise once his teams gained access to other villages where killings had been reported.
Ituri Governor Jean Bamanisa said provincial authorities were still working to establish the exact death toll and declined to say who was responsible.
He said the assailants’ tactics were to “empty out the villages, burn them and pursue those who had fled to the surrounding areas with bladed weapons.”
Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, who took office in January, is trying to restore stability to the country’s eastern borderlands, a tinderbox of conflict among armed groups over ethnicity, natural resources and political power.
Several rebel leaders have surrendered or been captured during his first months in office, but armed violence has persisted, particularly in North Kivu province, south of Ituri, which is the epicenter of a 10-month Ebola outbreak.