The lure of wild orchids persists in Colombia

first_imgAmazon Rainforest, Featured, Flowers, Forests, Orchids, Rainforests, Tropical Forests Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, locationScissors1dOther countries should also learn and try to incorporateWhy you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary)Processor1 DecAfter all, there is no infinite anything in the whole galaxy!Infinite stupidity, right here on earth.The wildlife trade threatens people and animals alike (commentary)Anchor3dUnfortunately I feel The Chinese have no compassion for any living animal. They are a cruel country that as we knowneatbeverything that moves and do not humanily kill these poor animals and insects. They have no health and safety on their markets and they then contract these diseases. Maybe its karma maybe they should look at the way they live and stop using animals for all there so called remedies. DisgustingConservationists welcome China’s wildlife trade banThobolo27 JanChina has consistently been the worlds worst, “ Face of Evil “ in regards our planets flora and fauna survival. In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? Focus on deforestation this year (commentary)Bullhorn4dLies and more leisSponsoredSponsoredCoke is again the biggest culprit behind plastic waste in the PhilippinesGrapes7 NovOnce again the article blames companies for the actions of individuals. It is individuals that buy these products, it is individuals that dispose of them improperly. If we want to change it, we have to change, not just create bad guys to blame.Brazilian response to Bolsonaro policies and Amazon fires growsCar4 SepThank you for this excellent report. I feel overwhelmed by the ecocidal intent of the Bolsonaro government in the name of ‘developing’ their ‘God-given’ resources.U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in SumatraPlanet4dcarrot hella thick ;)Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: studyleftylarry30 JanThe Arctic sea ice seems to be recovering this winter as per the last 10-12 years, good news.Malaysia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest mapBone27 Sep, 2018Who you’re trying to fool with selective data revelation?You can’t hide the truth if you show historical deforestation for all countries, especially in Europe from 1800s to this day. WorldBank has a good wholesome data on this.Mass tree planting along India’s Cauvery River has scientists worriedSurendra Nekkanti23 JanHi Mongabay. Good effort trying to be objective in this article. I would like to give a constructive feedback which could help in clearing things up.1. It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. As you seem to have spoken with an Isha spokesperson, if you could connect the concerned parties, it would be great, because I see that the ecologists are genuinely interested in making sure things are done the right way.May we all come together and make things happen.Rare Amazon bush dogs caught on camera in BoliviaCarrot1 Feba very good iniciative to be fallowed by the ranchers all overSponsored Article published by Genevieve Belmakercenter_img Colombia is the top location for orchids in the world, but about 50 percent of the country’s native orchids are threatened. Estimates put the total amount of annual wild orchid trafficking at about $6 billion minimum.The disappearance of the orchid threatens the stability of countless aspects of the forest, including the loss of specific types of wasps and bees attracted to a specific orchid.Colombia’s conservation efforts have been harshly criticized by one expert who points out that even Bogota’s botanical garden doesn’t have a permanent orchid exhibition. BOGOTA, Colombia – In March 2000, two Englishmen in their early twenties, Tom Hart Dyke and his friend Paul Winder, decided to trek through the Darién Gap in the war-torn jungles of Colombia’s northwestern frontier wilderness bordering Panama. This was at the zenith of Colombia’s bloody US-backed counter-insurgency campaign against Marxist FARC rebels, making the Darién one of the most dangerous places in the world at that time.Undeterred, or ignorant of the danger, the two hired a local guide to lead them on their mission: to find rare and undiscovered wild orchids. Within days, they were kidnapped by FARC rebels and accused of being spies or international drug runners.The rebels held the men for nine months until deciding one day that obtaining a ransom for them was futile, so they let them go. They were also sick of them, by Paul’s own account, after months of hearing him talk incessantly about orchids. They were freed, unscathed, with all of their original belongings. But without a guide the orchid hunters quickly got lost in the maze-like swamps of the Darién, and turned back to the rebel camp where they had been held captive. Incensed at seeing the hated Englishmen return, the rebels gave them a map and told them to leave and never come back or they would be killed: finally, the pair found their way back to safety.What motivated the young pair of Englishmen to venture off to dangerous foreign lands in search of flowers is perplexing to most people – but not to the orchid-obsessed.“The orchid is a seducer, like a mermaid,” explains Ildefonso Velasquez, an orchid expert and seller based in the Colombian capital of Bogota. “It’s mysterious and beckoning – it’s even seductive in its adaptation: it tricks other insects into pollinating it.”For true believers, a wild orchid is like a femme fatale: mysterious, beguiling, and utterly worth pursuing to the end.There is no denying the sexual element to orchids, not least because of their role in nature as “seducers.” The Cattleya labiata, also known as the Ruby-lipped Cattleya from northeastern Brazil is perhaps one the closest things in nature resembling human female genitalia, and does not leave much to the imagination: colored an electric pink, its long petals fold over a deep lilac capsule designed to attract the pollination of bees.Paphiopedilum villosum, a South Asian “slipper” orchid at the Paloquemao Market in Bogota. Photo by Maximo Anderson for Mongabay.Cattleyas have long been the most-sold variety of orchid on the market, prized for their perfume and thought of as the epitome of floral beauty.But sex aside, there is also lots of money in the game: gram for gram, rare orchids are worth more than gold worldwide. It is estimated that orchid trafficking globally is worth at least $6 billion. One widely circulated anecdote notes that a rare Kovachii picked from the Amazonian wilderness of Peru has fetched above $25,000.Just coming too close to the orchid can be dangerous.Without a permit, trading orchids across borders is illegal, as is trading those picked from the wild. In the US, orchid smuggling can land you in jail and cost tens of thousands of dollars in fines. The world renowned Kew Gardens Orchid Festival in London, England, where some of the most coveted orchid collections exist, has a security protocol that is not unlike that of a besieged embassy, with 24-hour police on duty and CCTV surveillance. The most precious are not even on display to the public, but instead, locked away in the basement of the Kew Herbarium.Valesquez says that this obsession for rare orchids has endangered many native species in Colombia and even landed some collectors in jail. A sample of orchids taken by the environmental ministry in 2012 looked at threats to the country’s flora and fauna and found that 50 percent of the species were threatened.This threatens not only the wildflower but the forests and marshlands in which they grow. Since some flowers have adapted to specifically attract one type of wasp or bee, for instance, their extinction can produce a negative spiral effect on the surrounding habitat. And if too many are removed from their habitat, it opens the way for other plants to colonize their place.“[Despite this threat] there is zero conservation effort in Colombia,” says Velasquez. He adds, a bit ruefully perhaps, that there isn’t a permanent orchid collection at Bogota’s Botanical Gardens.Loot and empireThe hunt for orchids in Colombia has a long legacy that leads back to 19th century Britain, when Victorian elites would send their servants off to the new world in search of rare and exotic flora to broaden their botanical collections.It was the age of loot and empire, and orchids held a special place in Europe, both as powerful symbols of social status and new specimens for scientific study. Some scholars have suggested that these exotic collections acted as a kind of private pornographic stash for the famously prudish Victorians. At the height of this “Orchidelirium,” as the craze became known, poachers were known to murder competitors and even burn down entire forests to stop others finding new species.The orchid is the most abundant flowering plant in the world, and is as varied as it is numerous: some can weigh up to a ton, stretch 100 feet in length; others are as small as a coin. They are used in everything from medicine to meditation rituals to food.Colombia is the world capital of orchids, with over 4,000 species, according to the state environmental ministry. Southeast Asia has the second highest number of wild orchids, with around 1,500 species spread between Burma, Thailand and Laos.Thanks in part to the Internet, Southeast Asia is going through an illegal boom of wild orchids, which is also threatening them with extinction.Colombia is the world’s second largest exporter of cut flowers, behind the Netherlands. Its flower industry, worth $1 billion per year, boomed in the early 1990s after the US dropped import tariffs from Colombia in order to choke off coca cultivation, making it the number one supplier of cut flowers to the US.Ironically, the flower industry became the perfect conduit for Colombia’s drug cartels to smuggle narcotics into the US, using flower shipments to conceal cocaine. It continues to be so.Domestic tradeColombia’s native orchid market, on the other hand, is almost completely illegal, catering to collectors in South America, Europe and the US.According to a decade-long investigation carried out by Colombia’s environmental ministry on the prevention and control of Colombia’s flora and fauna, the most endangered orchids are tulip orchids (Anguloa), Cattleya and swan orchid (Cycnoches).Though it estimated that only 10 percent of its native orchids have been discovered, experts believe that they are equally under threat. Colombia’s national police intercepted 305 illegal shipments of orchids between 2005-2010, when the government began taking stock of numbers. It is considered to be a fraction of the actual numbers.As of July this year, Colombia’s national police intercepted a total of 2,137 trafficked orchid species. The national police did not respond to further questioning about the type of orchids are smuggled, or their financial worth.Cattleya trianae, also known as the “Christmas orchid” which is at danger of extinction at the Paloquemao Market in Bogota. Photo by Maximo Anderson for Mongabay.Within Colombia, collectors have materos –  “orchid poachers” – who are on call to go and pick a collector’s desired plant on commission. Like small-scale drug dealers, materos often change their phone numbers to evade the authorities.While much more knowledgeable of the local dynamics and politics within Colombia than the English orchidophiles who wandered into the Darién, materos also run high risks of their own.“Four of my colleagues were lost in the jungle,” confided one matero* recently. “It was during the [civil] war and the guerrillas and paramilitaries – though they weren’t involved in the orchid trade – they were in control of the countryside.” He believed his colleagues were most likely murdered, either for not following protocols at checkpoints or simply for being suspect. “[Now that the war is officially over] that is no longer a problem, but we still have to know our way around, you can’t just turn up [to a place and collect orchids], people have to know you.”The absence of any serious oversight by the government is most evident in Bogota’s downtown market of Paloquemao, where endangered Catleya’s are sold next to endangered Bromelia’s for as a little as $3 to $10. Ironically, it’s the more expensive Asian hybrids that everyone wants, explains Velasquez, because they are considered “perfect.”But to the orchid-obsessed, it is the native wildflower that possesses the quality best captured by what the Japanese term wabi sabi: something that is sublime expressly because of its incompleteness, impermanence and imperfection.Rich historyOrchids have captivated people since the Ming Dynasty in ancient China, during which time the flowers were believed to cure almost any ailment, as well as healing sick elephants. While Charles Darwin was formulating his theory of evolution, he became so obsessed with orchids that he wrote an entire book on the relationship between the flower and its pollination.But the obsession has also had a more lurid application – many cultures considered them potent aphrodisiacs; Zulu warriors were known to stuff orchids into their armpits during courtship, and in modern times the flower is used to make aphrodisiac ice cream in Turkey.According to Interpol, international orchid trafficking is like other wildlife crime in that it does not function by itself. It is often mixed up with other criminal networks such as arms and drugs trafficking that use the same trade route to smuggle items across borders. Its the same approach as when the Colombian flower market was hijacked to smuggle cocaine into the US in the 1990s.There exists an international legal framework in (CITES), protecting endangered flora and fauna on the global level – policed by Interpol – but its critics say it works better on paper than in practice. The UN states environmental crime is the fourth largest criminal activity in the world, worth $258 billion, which is growing 5 per cent each year.Paloquemao Market, Bogota. Photo by Maximo Anderson for Mongabay.Carolina Castellanos, a biologist at the Bogota-based Humboldt Institute, says that part of the problem with policing orchid trafficking is in identifying endangered species.“It is hampered by technical issues because there is no standard taxonomy for flowers worldwide and most authorities responsible for intercepting trafficked flowers aren’t botanical experts,” Castellanos said. She added that the porous nature of Colombia’s jungle borders makes policing difficult, too.Castellanos has been working on a government-backed initiative to document and analyze Colombia’s vast fauna in order to come up with a national strategy for its conservation as well as its sustainable commercialization. The results were published in August this year.Colombia’s environmental ministry found that the greatest threat to the country’s flora and fauna overall is the expansion of cattle-ranching and wildcat logging. Since the end of the war with the FARC, which came after a November 2016 peace treaty was signed, there has been a sharp uptick in deforestation and close to half of Colombia’s current carbon emissions are a result of deforestation related to agriculture and cattle ranching, according to a report by Mapping the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP).Meanwhile, massive invasion of the country’s national parks is also a pressing issue, with 37 of its 59 parks currently affected.All of this places orchids and their habitats at greater risk than ever before. Velasquez believes the state is not doing enough to protect it’s most precious species of wildflower.“At the current rate there will be no native orchids left in 100 years,” he said.*Name has been changed on request due to safety concerns.Banner image: An orchid. Photo by Džoko Stach/Pixabay.Maximo Anderson is a freelance journalist and photographer currently based in Colombia. 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