13 Sep 2008

I’m Not Retracting

, , , , ,

Carel Brest van Kempen and friend

An August 25 WSJ article blamed a management plan by outside environmentalists which prevented feeding of komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) by residents of Kampang Komodo for the large monitor lizard’s increased opportunism and aggression, and for occasional incidents of human predation.

We don’t want the Komodo dragon to be domesticated. It’s against natural balance,” says Widodo Ramono, policy director of the Nature Conservancy’s Indonesian branch and a former director of the country’s national park service. “We have to keep this conservation area for the purpose of wildlife. It is not for human beings.”

This sounded like a good story to me and I blogged it here.

On the other hand, I have since found via Steve Bodio, that Carel Brest van Kempen, a Nature artist who knows his Oras as well as the local area, has a very different perspective, and makes a persuasive case contradicting the WSJ.

Mr. van Kempen says the village traces its origin to a penal colony, was settled by piratical Bugis fisherman from Sulawesi (whose ancestors were so naughty, he alleges, they inspired the English term “bogeymen”). The village has grown to 1600 residents, and Mr. van Kempen disapproves. “An unchecked human explosion will doom the dragons, ” he believes. Drastic measures were imposed by a 25-year plan drafted by outside experts. Mr. van Kempen endorses that plan, considering it “a thoughtful and practical attempt at a rather Sisyphean task.”

That Sisyphean task is obviously keeping the ora habitat free of local settlements.

The Management Plan bans a number of destructive and effective fishing methods, including explosives and poisons, reef gleaning, long lines, gill nets and demersal (bottom) traps, effectively restricting fishermen to using hook and line and traditional light nets. It also imposes catch limits and denies access to grouper and Napoleon Wrasse spawning grounds. A long list of fish species is proscribed, as are all marine invertebrates except squid. Some rather Draconian measures have been taken on land. All immigration has been disallowed; not even marriage confers a right to residency in the Park. Dogs and cats have been banned, as have most other domestic animals save goats and chickens, and restrictions have been put on use of fresh water. The gathering of firewood is no longer allowed and the laws prohibiting hunting of deer, pigs and buffalo are being strictly enforced. It’s the fishing restrictions, though, that have impacted the already struggling villagers the hardest, and they’ve caused considerable anger. There have been shootouts between rangers and fishermen, resulting in several deaths. Balancing the needs of the burgeoning villagers and those of the finite ecosystem is difficult, and the fact that it’s being imposed from outside causes real resentments.

If one actually reads the plan, one is obliged to conclude that the poor ignorant villagers, persons of low education who thoughtlessly reproduce themselves and get in the way of ecological progress are being first prevented from fishing by the most effective techniques and for the most marketable catch. Meanwhile, a totalitarian regime regulating intimate details of daily life (Don’t spray pesticides! How much water are you using? No dogs or cats, or wives from off-island, either!) must make things unpleasant indeed for residents, who are clearly being not all that subtly nudged to pack up and go away.

Once they’re gone, in comes the multi-million-dollar beach resort for eco-tourism, offering reef snorkling and dragon watching for beaucoup dollars per diem.

Steve Bodio and Matt Mullinex were dazzled by the details that van Kempen throws around, and by his obvious personal acquaintance with the neighborhood. I’m not persuaded. I remain permanently suspicious of Sarastro and all his expert planners, and on the basis of habitual preference for underdogs, I remain on the side of those local fishermen who are clearly getting pushed around.

The oras will clearly make out. The Indonesian government can make a good buck selling glimpses of this kind of unique wildlife to tourists, so they’ll be well protected.

No retraction from me.

One Feedback on "I’m Not Retracting"


I don’t expect to change your mind on anything; our differences stem not from an information imbalance but from substantially differing values. I would, however, like to clear a couple of things up. First, i didn’t mean to characterize the Komodo Buginese as pirates. The reference to Bugis pirates was meant only as an unrelated but interesting aside, as was Komodo Village’s genesis as a penal colony. Komodo villagers are no more criminal than Australians, whose national history mirrors Komodo’s. I believe, as you do, that the park villagers are innocent victims in this story. Your characterization of them as “pushed around” is correct. Like you said, they’re poor and uneducated, ie. politically weak. On the other hand, your contention that “the Oras will make out,” is harder to justify. Their survival in their tiny island habitat is extremely tenuous. The choice, and it’s a real one, gets down to the continued survival in the wild of a unique and amazing species vs. the rights of the people in the local community. It’s a tough judgment, and we can all expect to see plenty more like it. Money is not what the Oras need, it’s to be left alone, and tourism is as big a threat to the Central Nusa Tengarra ecology as anything else. I’m as suspicious as you of the vaunting of “ecotourism” as a cure-all for ecological woes, usually by vested interests. It’s snake oil, plain and simple. You’re right; the park villagers are getting screwed, but as population and standard of living increase, our interests collide more frequently, and the freedoms you cherish will fall away out of necessity. You can’t have it all, and we all have to start making some choices. Like I said in my post, the dilemma of Komodo Village is a microcosm of our own future.
Oh yeah, and the basic WSJ article thesis that Komodo Dragon behavior is changing and that they’re more dangerous to people is pure hogwash.


Please Leave a Comment!

Please note: Comments may be moderated. It may take a while for them to show on the page.

Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark