Saving Philippine orchids
- Kevin G. Belmonte () - February 20, 2010 - 12:00am

(This week, Succulentophile gives way to this article  by Kelvin Neil B. Manubay)

Once a species is gone, it is gone forever; once extinct, it is permanently lost. Many of our wild plants and animals are in danger of extinction as a result of the loss of their habitats, climate change and the depredation of humans.

Natural calamities like volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis, landslides and earthquakes, complicated by climate change, can wipe out wildlife habitats in seconds. Man, on the other hand, has long been a contributor to the destruction of these habitats with his land encroachment, kaingin, indiscriminate hunting and exploitation of forest products and even by introducing new foreign species that competes for resources with the local species.

The Philippines is known to be rich in orchid species. Of the 1,000 or more species known, 90 percent are endemic. Because the country has a very high level of bio-diversity, many new orchid species are being discovered in our forests yet more are being lost even before they are discovered.

With the exception of the protection of animal wildlife and trees, the government has no concrete program for the conservation, preservation and propagation of its orchid and ornamental plant species. As a matter of fact, the CITES (Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species) program being adopted by the Philippine government is so prohibitive that we are losing more plant species than actually saving them. This is because all CITES does is prohibit the collection, possession and trade of all endangered wildlife species. It has no rescue, no rehabilitation and propagation programs, which are very important to have in a true conservation program.

When endangered animal wildlife (like the Philippine eagle, the Philippine tamaraw, the leather-back turtle, etc.) are confiscated from poachers, they are subsequently kept for rehabilitation and even subjected to captive breeding before being set free again into their natural habitats. But when orchid and plant species are confiscated from poachers, they are immediately burned and disposed of.

We believe that it is the responsibility of our organizations to make a move to solve this problem. The saving of our local orchid and ornament plant species from natural calamities and man’s careless ways will ensure their existence for years to come. With their propagation we can restock our forests with their original endemic species. The surplus from the propagated plants may also be economically beneficial for the local communities who will stand as guardians of these species. This is because there is a worldwide demand for Philippine plants. Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia and many other Asian countries have adopted orchid conservation, propagation and breeding programs that have created for them multi-million-dollar export industries.

Sad to say, despite the Philippines being blessed with a wealth of plant resources, favorable growing conditions and diligent, hardworking people, we do not have a thriving plant export industry. As of now, the only ones benefiting are the illegal poachers who strip our forests for their personal gains, and do nothing to restore the ecological balance of our forests.      

A true orchid and plant conservation program should include the following:

1. Education. Awareness is key to making people more conscious of the existing problem. The government should seek the help of and directly work with concerned and knowledgeable botanical institutions and NGOs to disseminate information about the importance and vulnerability of Philippine orchid/plant species; identify critically endangered and threatened species and vulnerable habitats; and train concerned and interested individuals and communities on how to properly rehabilitate, cultivate and propagate these species to ensure their survival.

2. Protection and policing. Enforcement of our Wildlife Protection Laws is very important to ensure the protection of our orchid/plant species and their habitats. This should, however, be directed only to illegal poachers, loggers, and land grabbers, etc. who indiscriminately strip our forests of their rich resources and damage the ecological landscape. The government should seek the help of and deputize concerned botanical institutions and communities to help enforce these laws. On the other hand, the government should identify botanical institutions that could be legally allowed to collect sample specimens for research and propagation purposes.

3. Rescue and rehabilitation. Aside from illegal poaching, land development and natural calamities, aggravated by climate change, have contributed greatly to the extinction and destruction of so many species and their habitats. The government should seek the help of botanical institutions, concerned organizations and communities to help rescue orchid/plants species in the path of sure destruction. Before the government goes on a road-widening or land-development project in areas that are rich in flora, they should invite these institutions to survey the area and allow them to rescue valuable species threatened with extinction. The government should allow concerned institutions to do surveys of our forests and identify areas that are vulnerable to natural calamities (landslides, flashflood, etc.) and take sample orchid/plant specimens for pre-rescue and propagation purposes.

Foresters who do road clearing of fallen trees after typhoons and landslides should be taught to identify and rescue valuable species on the fallen host trees before disposing of them. Rescued species can be adopted by trained communities who can rehabilitate and propagate them to ensure their existence. Confiscated species from illegal poachers should not be disposed of indiscriminately. These plants should be turned over to responsible botanical institutions and organizations for rehabilitation and propagation.

4. Propagation and distribution. There can be no true conservation without propagation and distribution. Propagation ensures the proliferation of the plant species. These new propagations can be used to restock our forests with valuable plant species endemic to them. The distribution of these propagated plant species to botanical institutions, parks, communities and concerned organizations can ensure the existence and survival of these species for years to come.

* * *

Philippine Orchid Society Show

The Philippine Orchid Society will be holding its annual Orchid and Garden Show on Feb. 25 to March 8 at the Manila Seedling Bank Environmental Center, Quezon Ave. corner EDSA, QC. It will carry the theme “Protecting Our Orchid Species from Climate Change” and will feature orchid landscape exhibits showing off the best of Philippine orchid species and hybrids, 65 commercial booths for plant sale, and garden equipment and free daily lectures on orchid culture and conservation.

For more information, call the POS Secretariat at telephone numbers 929-4425, 906-5036, 924-0166, or SMS 0917-8485468 or 0922-8959544.

Lectures will be held at 2 p.m., with a P20 entrance fee:

Feb. 26 (Friday) — Monopodial orchids; speaker: CV Lazaro

Feb. 27 (Saturday) — Corsage and bouquet making; speaker: Willie Ortaliz

Feb. 28 (Sunday) — Ferns: The orchid’s perfect companion; speaker: Vangie Go

March 1 (Monday) — Sympodial orchids; speaker: Andres Golamco, Jr.

March 2 (Tuesday) — Controlling pests and diseases; speaker: Norberto R. Bautista

March 3 (Wednesday) — Orchid species; speaker: Kelvin Neil B. Manubay

March 4 (Thursday) — Basics in bonsai making; speaker: Mody Manglicmot

March 5 (Friday) — Plant nutrition and urban vegetable gardening; speakers: Allied Botanical Corporation representatives

March 6 (Saturday):

10 a.m. to 12 noon —Production of annual flowering plants; speaker: East West Seed representative

2 to 4 p.m. Orchid micropagation; speaker: Jovy Anit

March 7 (Sunday) — Ikebana flower arrangement; speaker: Serapion Metilla

March 8 (Monday) — Orchid and plant business; speaker: Ester Y. Manuel

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