Sunday, 25 January 2015

Time to sniff out smuggled orchids?

Conservationists are considering using sniffer dogs in detecting wild orchids that are being harvested in Tanzania at alarming rates and smuggled out of the country.

The Wildlife Conservation Society is training detector dogs for ivory, lion bones and other illegal wildlife products. Director Dr Tim Davenport thinks the system could work for orchids, although funding would have to be sought, according the press report.

It seems that wild orchids are used in the making of chikanda, a food that is cooked from the tuber, the size of small potatoes. It is cooked with peanut powder and spices. In rural Zambia it is eaten with a local staple 'ugali' and sold at markets eaten normally as a dessert or snack.

Shockingly, each year up to 4 million chikanda tubers (or 60 metric tonnes) were harvested from the Southern Highlands.

Based on the number of species found in the Southern Highlands, it is estimated that as many as 85 species might be at risk of over-harvesting.

"In the mountains around Sumbawanga a lot of chikanda orchids are growing as well, but it seems that orchid traders haven't really gotten there yet," he said, adding that this may change taking into account that evidence shows Tanzanians have taken a liking to the delicacy as well.

An alternative project involves a collaboration with researchers from Norway and Sweden to identify and monitor trade in Tanzanian wild-harvested medicinal plants by means of innovative genomics- based DNA bar-coding.

Naremoru river in the rainforest near Mt. Kilimanjaro, photograph by Chris73 / Wikimedia Commons

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