Wildlife fans planning to visit Komodo Island to hang out with the largest lizards on Earth in 2020 will have to adjust their Indonesia travel plans.
According to local media, government officials are closing the popular island to tourists for one year.
A report by Indonesia’s Tempo newspaper quotes provincial administration spokesman Marius Jelamu as saying Komodo will be off-limits from January 2020.
So why shut one of Indonesia’s most popular tourist destinations?
Though plans to limit the number of Komodo visitors have been under discussion for months, Tempo reports the closure comes in response to the March bust of an alleged smuggling ring in which 41 Komodo lizards were taken from the island and sold abroad for 500 million rupiah each (about $35,000).
During the closure, officials will reportedly embark on a conservation program aimed at increasing the population of the dragons while preserving their habitat.
The protected animals, famed for their venomous bites and massive size, can grow up to 10 feet in length and weigh as much as 70 kilos.
New infrastructure boosts visitor numbers
Part of the UNESCO-listed Komodo National Park, Komodo Island has grown increasingly popular in recent years thanks to the addition of new flights and hotels in the nearby town of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. The park currently receives an average of 10,000 visitors per month.
According to UNESCO figures, there are more than 5,000 dragons spread across the national park’s islands of Komodo, Rinca, Gili Motong and some coastal regions of western and northern Flores.
Tempo reports that only Komodo Island will close; the rest of the national park will remain open to tourism.
In addition to super-sized lizards, the area offers exceptional diving and snorkeling opportunities as well as breathtaking scenery.
CNN Travel has reached out to Indonesia Tourism for clarifications on the closure but has yet to receive an official response.
Cracking down on over-tourism
News of the upcoming Komodo Island travel ban is the latest in a series of high profile closures ordered in major tourist destinations in Southeast Asia in the name of rehabilitation.
Thailand’s Maya Bay, made famous by 2000 film “The Beach,” has been closed since June of 2018 as part of a rejuvenation program aimed at reviving the area’s decimated corals and installing additional boat jetties, among other activities.
A re-opening date hasn’t yet been announced.
Meanwhile, the Philippines’ famed Boracay island reopened in October 2018, six months after closing for a massive cleanup operation.