Indonesia is pressing ahead with controversial plans to build a multi-million dollar Jurassic Park-style attraction for tourists eager to catch a glimpse of its famed Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizards.
The $6.5 million proposal, which drew fire from wildlife conservation groups, is tied to a government-sponsored tourism and economic redevelopment campaign for when international tourism safely resumes.
Architects behind the idea took to Instagram to share a video of their design, set against composer John Williams’s theme song used in the dinosaur movie franchise.
No official timeline has been confirmed but construction work will be carried out on Rinca island in Komodo National Park and will include a 1.3 hectare geopark as well as tourist information center.
Around 4,000 Komodo dragons live on a cluster of islands in the park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and huge tourism draw. The Indonesian government temporarily cut off public access in April 2019 to allow for the giant reptiles to recuperate after authorities busted a local dragon-smuggling ring.
In normal times, visitors would arrive by boat having been strongly discouraged from getting too close to the strong, giant reptiles – whose toxic bite can prove fatal. They are meant to stick with local guides and not venture off on their own.
Stricter changes to the island were being discussed in 2019, with local authorities planning to restrict the number of visitors through park tickets and higher entry fees.
As COVID-19 spread rapidly in Indonesia – the national case figures stand at more than 280,000 infections– visits to Komodo were once again curtailed.
A park spokesperson told VICE News it is now open again after being shut from March to July due to COVID. A maximum of 25 people per day can visit but with pre-registration through travel agencies.
How the dragons will feature as part of the new attraction remains unclear. But conservationists and local residents criticised the proposal.
“According to our ancestors, conservation means to live together with the Komodo dragons within their ecosystem,” one islander told ABC news. “Conservation has nothing to do with making financial benefits.”
A representative for the business community on Komodo also told ABC that the plan should be scrapped. “We demand the government to be completely transparent regarding its construction and immediately consult the public beforehand,” Aloysius Suhartim Karya said.
The Indonesian government did not immediately respond to requests for comment from VICE News.
But Shana Fatina, a managing director from the local tourism authority, was quoted as saying that officials from the environment and forestry ministry had been consulted and the development on Rinca island would not interrupt ongoing conservation efforts.
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