"Visitor-friendly" might not be the first description that comes to mind when talking about an island swarming with giant, carnivorous lizards. But Indonesia's Komodo, the entire area of which is a World Heritage Site and national park, is becoming just that, thanks to an array of new visitor facilities that make seeing the fabled Komodo dragons more enjoyable.
Komodo lies between the islands of Flores and Sumbawa. Overseas visitors typically take a 90-minute flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo in the western part of Flores, then charter a boat to Komodo the closest you'll ever come to Jurassic Park.
More than 2,500 Komodo dragons still roam freely across the island, with some measuring up to 10 ft. (3 m) in length. There are 37 different types of reptile species besides, as well as 32 species of mammals. The waters off Komodo are diver heaven home to more than 1,000 species of fish, 385 species of reef-building corals and six species of whales.
These kinds of natural assets have prompted the U.S.-based Nature Conservancy (TNC), in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (a World Bank offshoot) and the local government, to develop Komodo into an ecotourism destination that will eventually become self-supporting, they hope, through visitor revenues. Some 17,000 visited the park in 2007 but TNC hopes to double that number over the next few years.
"We are trying to create tourism with a sense of responsibility," explains Marcus Matthews-Sawyer, director of tourism, marketing and communications at Putri Naga Komodo, a private-sector partnership set up in 2005 to manage the park. "This is a world-class destination that needs the right facilities to make it attractive to more than just adventure travelers."
The badly needed new additions include a visitor-reception building, decent toilets, a combined restaurant and retail outlet with great souvenirs, and information panels detailing the flora and fauna on the island. "Our vision is to position Komodo National Park as a World Heritage Site in Indonesia and the region as a whole," says Rili Djohani of TNC. "Hopefully, when people think ecotourism and nature, they will think of Komodo National Park."
Detailed information, including a guide to alternative transport arrangements, can be found at www.komodonationalpark.org. Do note that July and August is mating season, which makes it more difficult to catch a glimpse of the dragons and even if you do spot one, a mating Komodo dragon is disturbed only at your dire peril.
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