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Komodo Island may close because people keep stealing dragons



Tourists to likely be barred from the popular Komodo Island in January 2020 – a decision implied by recent reports of Komodo dragons being stolen and smuggled overseas, potentially for dubious medicinal purposes, according to local media.

The Temporary shutdown, announced Friday, is expected to give officials in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia's southernmost province, an opportunity to increase their population and preserve their habitats, according to Tempo newspaper. Discussions about closing the island back to at least January, when officials said it could close for a full year.

Komodo Island is one of the three larger land masses that make up Komodo National Park. The other two islands, one of which also features the animals are expected to remain open.

The decision to close the island came just days after nine men were arrested on suspicion of selling more than 40 Komodo dragons for about $ 35,000 each, local police duty Tempo. Officials said the reptiles, which are the most famous species of lizard in existence and only found in the wild in East Indonesia, are usually sold to Asian buyers.

Authorities also seized other animals originating from eastern Indonesia, including wildcats, birds and cockatoos, according to Tempo. The purchase of the dragons, however, may be used to create an antibiotic, police said.

Komodo dragons have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, but were only discovered in the early 20th century. As The Washington Post has previously reported, part of the reason Komodo dragons have outlived other species because of their highly-venomous bite, which is so toxic that even a nip can be fatal. But the animals also have another unique trait: their blood is packed with antimicrobial peptides, a built-in defense against infections produced by all living creatures. This is a Komodo dragon in Komodo National Park. (iStock)

Some scientist believe these peptides could be harnessed to antibiotics to protect humans. But Bryan Fry, an associate professor of the University of Queensland's school of biological sciences, customs The post this process is more complicated and less plausible than it sounds.

Not enough is known about the chemical compounds Komodo dragons utilize to fight off infection , and using their blood directly would not be useful in treating human infection, Fry explained in an email. Purifying the compounds within their blood would be difficult ̵

1; and even then, “the likelihood of a violent allergic reaction would be very high.”

“Turning this into a pharmaceutical product would require many years of laboratory research to generate small sized, synthetic analogs, ”Fry said. "The natural compounds are large and would light our immune system like a Christmas tree, providing a violent allergic response after repeated use."

He continued, "If this is what it is fueling the trade, it is the same destructive fantasy land as the Asian appetite for Rhino horns as aphrodisiacs." The official time to bolster protections for the dragons, whose population was last determined to be vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, which measures the world biodiversity.

Crawford Allan, a senior director and expert on wildlife trafficking with the World Wildlife Foundation, said Komodo dragons have historically been sought after by affluent collectors who target "unique, rare and special animals." in which Komodo were sold and sold for about $ 30,000 – about the same rate reported by Indonesian police this year.

"People have money to pay organized cri Allan said in an interview, "My suspicion is this has a high degree of organized crime, and also a bit of corruption as well." 19659016] A Komodo dragon strolling along a beach at Komodo Island National Park in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. (EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock)

Some reports indicate there are about 6,000 of the dragons left in existence, Allan said, and fewer than 500 of those are females capable of breeding. Selling animals for trade may have a "major and sudden impact" on their populations, especially if reproductive females are among them.

" said to be able to extinction very quickly, because that medical demand can surge, ”he said.

Shutting down Komodo Island to protect the drones could be a wise idea, Allan said. But he and Fry both expressed concern about the one-year loss of tourism funding, and how that could impact the local economy – notably people whose incomes are dependent on the island's visitors. The Smithsonian estimates around 18,000 people travel to Indonesian islands each year intent on seeing the animals.

And it is possible that closing the island, even for one year, will probably not be enough for those intent or stealing the dragons, Allan added.

"If there are organized crime groups suddenly making a lot of money from Komodo dragons, they will find a way to get there and to get those animals," he said. “I think [closing the island] is just something that will just book up the price, and higher the price, most likely poaching is to take place.”

Adam Popescu contributed to this report.

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