KUPANG, Indonesia: Tourists keen for a close-up look at Komodo dragons in their natural habitat could be hit with an alarming bill, if one Indonesian politician gets his way.
The governor of East Nusa Tenggara province - home to the world's biggest lizard - has proposed charging visitors US$500 to see the endangered species, about 50 times the current entrance fee for foreign tourists at Komodo National Park.
And if Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat prevails, the park would be off limits to all but "extraordinary" visitors with cash to burn.
"(Komodo dragons) are very unique, but sadly they come cheap," the governor said this week, during a speech to university administrators.
"Only people with deep pockets are allowed to (see the Komodo dragons). Those who don't have the money shouldn't visit the park since it specifically caters to extraordinary people," he added.
The governor - who also suggested recreational boats should be charged a US$50,000 entrance fee - said he would talk with the central government, which administers the national park.
The provincial government and federal environment ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the proposed fee hike.
Indonesian politicians have a long history of announcing plans that rarely come to pass, including the former drug czar's proposal to build a prison surrounded by moats filled with piranhas and crocodiles to tighten security.
Thousands of tourists annually descend on the cluster of islands in eastern Indonesia that are the only place in the world where Komodo dragons can be seen in their natural habitat.
Previously, the government planned to limit the number of tourists over concerns that the influx was putting pressure on the environment and endangering the giant lizard's habitat.
The slavering carnivores, which can grow to around 3m in length and weigh up to 70kg, can be dangerous to humans although deadly attacks are rare.