The Komodo National Park in Eastern Indonesia is comprised of three small islands containing hundreds of unique and endemic species of flora and fauna, including the world famous Komodo Dragons, the largest land-dwelling reptiles in the world. This unique ecosystem is extremely vulnerable to degradation from outside influences such as tourists visiting the park, or poachers. The island is a closed ecosystem, populated with species that have evolved together over millions of years, protected by their isolation from many types of predators. The introduction of new species, people or diseases can therefore have an immediate and very negative impact on the ecosystem Tourism is a booming industry in Southeast Asia and is promoted heavily by the Indonesian government, which is also responsible for the park planning and maintenance. This case study examines the many impacts of tourism on the flora and fauna of Komodo National Park.
Indonesia’s Komodo National Park Indonesia’s is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, and it is also the third largest Asian country with a population of almost 200 million. Conservation International ranks it as the second most diverse country, after Brazil. Indonesia has over 500 mammal species 35 primate species, 270 amphibians and 477 endemic species of palms. Indonesia also has more wildlife reserves than any other Southeast Asian country. (Hitchcock, p. 303) Indonesia also has over 200 species of animals listed on the IUCN list of endangered or threatened species. The Komodo National Park in the Eastern province of Nusa Tenggara Timur is covered with monsoon forests and open savannahs. The park encompasses 340 square kilometers (130 square miles) and is generally hilly terrain. The park is situated in a transitional ecological zone between Australia and asia and is populated with wildlife from both continents (Hitchcock, p. 306). The dry season is from May-October and the islands are sparsely populated with people, mostly due to the scarcity of water on the islands. The three islands, Komodo, Padan and Rinca have an amazing level of biodiversity resulting in part from the rich seas surrounding the islands. There are macaque monkeys, cockatoos. green pit vipers, sea eagles, giant turtles and crocodiles, along with the famous Varanus komodoensis, the Komodo Dragon. Many of these animals live near the coastline, feeding on marine life. There are approximately 2,000 people on the islands, mostly along the shorelines. They are mostly engaged in fishing and tourism industries. The economy of the islands is heavily dependent on the natural ecology, both directly and indirectly. The economy consists of cultivation and animal husbandry, deer hunting, fishing and collecting woodland products. Turtles, shrimp, squid and dolphins are all hunted by local fishermen. Some villagers also exploit the ecology indirectly through employment in the ecotourism industry. The Komodo Dragon has never really been hunted commercially because its skin is of little commercial value and it is also not used for food. ?Indigenous species on Komodo. Aside from the native turtles, deer, monkeys and other animals on the island, there are the Komodo Dragons, which are a member of the Monitor lizard family. The Dragons can grow to be quite large, typically about 2 meters long and weighing 40-70 kilograms. They are listed on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) list of endangered or threatened species. The largest verified Dragon was 3.13 meters long (almost 9 feet) and weighed 166 kilograms (about 320 pounds) (Scientific American, 1999). Dragons are found at all elevations on the islands. Recent estimates of the dragon population are that there are 3,500 spread out over the islands, most of them on Komodo island (Scientific American, 1999). The growth of tourism on the islands.
The management plan for the park was devised by the UNDP and FAO in 1978 with the aim of preserving the park for scientific purposes. The plan proposed that tourism be introduced to protect the reserve from harmful commercial exploitation, and to help the local economy. In terms of visitor services, no specific limit on the number of tourists per month or year was proposed but their impact was to be limited by requesting that they remain on marked trails, use hides for nature watching and be accompanied by guides. Recommendations included building an airstrip on the island to connect it with the Bali tourist trade (which was not done), and also limiting the number of visitors at one time (Hitchcock, p. 310). It is unclear if this signifies 40 visitors per day, per hour or per week. The Indonesian government’s official tourism goal exceeds 1 million visitors per year for the country as a whole and there are an estimated 18,000 visitors annually to the Komodo Park (Scientific American, 1999) which is now a stop on the itinerary of cruise ships in the area. (Image courtesy of Scientific American web site, March 1999). The Impacts of tourism and policy choices. The are many potential impacts resulting from tourism on a small isolated island. Tourism can cause pollution from boats, sewage and litter. Tourists can also change the habitat by disturbing plants and animals directly by disturbing feeding patterns, disrupting the breeding cycle, etc. Pollution from boats and tourists can impact the coral reefs near the shoreline, potentially limiting the food supply for many of the islands species. The ecosystem of an island is a uniquely fragile one where the native plants and animals have evolved together and developed an interdependent system. if one aspect of the system, such as a food source is removed or disrupted, the food chain begins to fail. This has happened on the island of Padan where the number of dragons on the island has dropped to almost zero because poachers have killed all the deer on the island. Deer are the major food source for Komodo dragons (Scientific American, 1999). The Impacts of tourism and policy choices. Can such a small island park sustain the 18,000 visitors a year without compromising the ecosystem’s sustainability? Such as high ratio of tourists to local people (at least a five to one ratio) and native wildlife inevitably causes disruption of the indigenous culture and particularly the life cycle of the wildlife. The behavior changes among the dragons has been well-documented. Park officials feed the animals at feeding stations at regularly scheduled times in a conscious effort to domesticate the lizards. This serves two purposes as it makes an attack by a lizard less likely because they are well-fed, and it also provides steady, reliable entertainment for tourists who come to the feeding stations to watch the dragons eat freshly killed deer. This unnatural behavior modification means that the lizards are dependent on humans for regular feedings and are unlikely to survive in a wild state as they would no longer have the same hunting skills after years of domestication. It is also unlikely that their diet is as varied or natural as it would be without the human interference. The dragons also do not exhibit any fear of humans, another behavioral adaptation which in the long-run could have serious repercussions. As for the economic impact of tourism on the island, it seems that little if any tourism revenue gained by park fees remains in the area to maintain the park or support the local economy. The government is the only obvious benefactor to the park tourism, although some local people no doubt are dependent on tourism revenue through services they provide outside the park. From a sustainable development perspective, this particular example of ecotourism does little to assist the economic situation of the islanders who remain at a subsistance level, nor is it entirely beneficial for the dragons and other wildlife. While ecotourism is certainly preferable to other economic activities such as hunting or logging, there is still negative impact upon the wildlife because tourism is a form of commercial exploitation.
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