Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: Timor hopes national park to become tourist attraction


August 4, 2008

Connect Asia

Timor hopes national park to become tourist attraction

East Timor has inaugurated it's first ever national park in a move that will protect and preserve 123,000 hectares of land and sea at eastern tip of the island.

But both the government and the communities living in the park also hope the park will lead to increased income generation and open up the door to tourism possibilities.

Presenter: Stephanie March Speakers: Xanana Gusmao, East Timor's Prime Minister; Colin Trainor, conservation biologist Charles Darwin University; Katheryn McDonald, first tourist to visit East Timor's national park

MARCH: East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was the first to crack open the champagne in the nation's first ever national park. The dedication of this park holds special significance for the former resistance fighter now - Prime Minister. It's named after his former comrade, Nino Konis Santana who was born in the parks mountains and fought for most of his life for East Timor to gain independence from Indonesia.

GUSMAO: Very happy because we start something that it is an important process of preservation of our forest.

MARCH: But the park is not like the most national parks you would find in other countries. Instead of protecting the environment from human impact by restricting access, the park is home to 10,000 residents. They will sign contracts that will establish them as the park's community guardians. The challenge then is for the government to support the communities to find sustainable ways to improve the quality of the environment, but also maintain their livelihoods through farming, and also tourism activities.

GUSMAO: We believe that our tourism industry should be different from Bali. We cannot compete and we don't want to compete from other places. We will explore the difference and our capability in terms of what we have, not only preserving for the foreign eyes but also for our country, for future generation.

MARCH: The park is home to dozens of significant animals - including birds, bats and marine life. Colin Trainor is a conservation biologist from Charles Darwin University in Australia, who recently published a field guide to the birds of East Timor.

He says the park is the largest remnant of tropical forest on Timor island.

TRAINOR: Because It's the most extensive area it has the best population on the island for many of the endemic and globally restricted range an also threatened birds. The park holds pops of two threatened birds, the yellow crested cockatoo, and the Timor green pigeon. And as far as we know certainly for the Timor green pigeon this is the best place in the world to see them and the best populations.

He says there are a lot of reasons the national park could be a successful tourist destination.

TRAINOR: there is such a wide range of environments here from fantastic snorkeling and diving, coastal areas, beaches for lazing around. It has these mountains, absolutely fantastic for walking so potentially there is a really wide range of activities and interest birds and other things.

Security concerns and prohibitive costs mean tourists in East Timor are few and far between compared to neighboring destinations like Bali. It was only by chance that one of those rare tourists, Kathryn McDonald from South Australia, found herself at the park's inauguration.

MCDONALD: I jumped in a truck on the way back from Tutuala and they said "oh big ceremony tomorrow" and I decided I was doing to go back to Baucau, but I stayed in Los Palos and made friends with some women making bread and they said "ceremony you have to go" so I came back this morning and I have suddenly come up with the greatest title in the world: The first tourist, in the first national park in East Timor.

And as the park's first ever tourist, Kathryn McDonald had says she was surprised how different the its landscape is from the rest of the country.

MCDONALD: It's significantly different to the dry land coming up, it feels like you have walked into Egypt in some of it with the sheep herders going through, so the national park it is a different end of Timor, new style new side, so I think it's pretty good especially compared to Dili where it is so dry

And she warns it probably won't be long before more adventurous travelers follow in her footsteps.

MCDONALD: I think it is going to be overwhelmed all together too soon so I think it's a beautiful place, but I think the chase of fast money might be a bit damaging to the area, so if this park works and they can really control it and you can keep Jaco as beautiful as it is, and Valusera, all of it, it will be great it will be a huge boom.

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