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Komodo Dragons as Stay-at-Home Celebrities

Plans to Move Population of 10 Komodo Dragons to a Bali Zoo have the People of West Flores in an Uproar.

(7/27/2009) Plans by the Indonesian Department of Forestry to capture and move ten rare Komodo "dragons" (Varanus Komodoensis) from their natural habitat at the Komodo National Park to the Bali Safari Park is coming under harsh attack from legislators and the public of West Flores.

Calling plans to move the rare reptiles to Bali an "authoritarian act by the central government," various groups have called for the revocation of the Ministerial decree authorizing the capture and removal of the ten Komodo.

Cyprianus Aoer, a West Flores legislator who sits on Commission X at the National House of Representatives (DPR) told Kompas.com: "The Ministerial decree must be revoked. The decision from the central government shows the authoritarian character and its failure to adequately consider local and regional interests."

The government is defending its decision to move 10 Komodos from the Wae Wuul area of the Komodo reserve to "Taman Safari Bali" as part of efforts to preserve the endangered reptiles by means of genetic diversification.

Cyprianus sees things differently, however, branding the Forestry Minister's decision as an effort to further impoverish the people of Flores by sending the iconic dragons to new areas, detracting from the singularity of West Flores as a nature tourism destination. The legislator added: "The people of Flores must push so the Ministerial decree is quickly revoked. This is even more urgent given the nomination of Komodo to the list of the wonders of the natural world."

Separately, the Chairman of the Regional House of Representatives for West Manggarai (West Flores), Matheus Hamsi, expressed his shock with the Forestry Minister's decision, saying: "Why move Komodos to Bali? This decision makes no sense and I feel the people of Manggarai Barat and the whole of Flores island do not agree (with this move). The natural habitat of the Komodo is in the Flores region, so why are we moving the dragons to a different habitat?"

The Chairman of the People's Group again Mining (Geram), Bernadus Baratdaya, also rejected the decision to move the Komodos to Bali, whatever the reason. Bernadus said: "We will stand in the way of anyone, including the Nature Conservation Agency of Nusa Tenggara Timur (BKSDA NTT), trying to move Komodos from Flores to other places. The only Komodo populations is on Komodo island, Rinca island and Flores near Wae Wuul and Samburampas. Because only a little more than 10 Komodo's still exists in Wae Wuul, why are we moving 10 of them? Isn't this a systematic effort to eradicate the Komodos from the island of Flores?"

Bernadus questioned that if the facilities in Flores are inadequate for the genetic diversity of the Komodo, shouldn't the BKSDA NTT fight to improve Flores and not be moving these rare reptiles to another place?

Joining the debate, Agung Wardhana, the Director of the Bali branch of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI), told the Jakarta Post that the relocation of a sub-population of the world's largest lizards to Bali would be bad for both the reptiles and Bali's environment. Saying "the move will likely have both environmental and social ramifications." Wardhana called on the government to make public of the environmental impact study required before such a decision is made by the government.

Wardhana says that the ecosystems of Komodo and Bali are markedly different, and to try to create a micro-environment suitable for the rare reptiles in Bali could damage Bali's fragile eco-system. "Before this, eight elephants were transported from Bogor, now the Dragons. What will come next?" Agung asked. "Should all of them be put on this relatively small island?"

The Chief of the BKSDA for Bali has called for all parties to reserve judgment on the plans to bring the dragon population to Bali saying, "Taman Safari Indonesia has already proven itself a worthy conservator."