Saturday, 15 March 2014

Raiders of the last orchids ...

Forgive the pun above, but have we learned nothing about plant conservation?

Orchid thieves are putting entire species of the rare flowers at risk, specialists say. For the past 20 years, illegal traders have been looting native wild orchids from the country’s forests.

It’s a sorry state of affairs. U Saw Lwin, orchidologist and plant tissue culturist, said orchid numbers have fallen significantly since 1988 because of illegal trading to foreign countries, especially China.

“Both legal and illegal border trade between Myanmar and China increased after 1988. The Myanmar native orchid is not widely used in traditional medicine here, but orchids have been widely used in Chinese medicine for centuries. The dendrobium orchid has been exported to Chinese extensively since 1988,” he said, according to a press report.

In Myanmar, dendrobium orchids are mostly found in Chin, Shan and Kachin states, he said, adding that “over-collection has resulted in near-extinction for some species”.

Others are similarly at risk; the orchid type pazun or nilone was once plentiful in Chin State but has been hit hard. “Now, you would find only two plants a day, with luck,” U Saw Lwin said.

According to the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, seven cases of illegal orchid trading were recorded last year. More than 3000 viss, or almost 5 tonnes (one viss equals 1.6 kilograms or 3.6 pounds), of orchids were seized in 2013, mostly in Chin and Shan states.

Native wild orchids are protected under the Protection of Wildlife and Protected Areas Law (1994), and those found guilty of removing, collecting or destroying specimens without permission can face five years in jail, a fine of K30,000 or both.

Orchid expert U Nyan Tun, from Taunggyi in southern Shan State, said orchids are also at risk because of deforestation, hillside cultivation and logging. “But the main factor is over-collection by humans.”

The lack of job opportunities in the area is blamed. The answer? Eco-tourism could help, along with better airline links to promote the legitimate orchid business.

Caption: Paphiopedilums (slipper orchids) are particularly at risk.

By Pamela Kelt 

Even in Victorian times, orchids were under threat. READ THE BOOK! The Lost Orchid is a Gothic-inspired tale of intrigue set in 1880s, when orchidelirium was raging ... Out on 4 April from  

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