posted June 18, 2004 (ENS, 5/11/04): Half of
the world's 1,200 woody bamboo species may be in danger
of extinction as a result of massive forest destruction,
according to a joint United Nations-commercial study,
the most comprehensive ever conducted on bamboos.
The study, produced by the International Network for Bamboo
and Rattan (INBAR) and the United Nations Environment
Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC),
uses novel analyses to combine data on the distributions
of bamboo species and on existing forest cover.
As a consequence many vulnerable species such as lemurs,
giant pandas and mountain gorillas that depend almost
entirely on bamboo for food and shelter face a greater
struggle for survival.
It shows that many bamboo species, including relatives
of those cultivated commercially, have tiny amounts
of forest remaining within their native ranges. Some
250 woody bamboo species have less than 2,000 square
kilometers of forest remaining within their ranges -
an area the size of the city of London.
Nadia Bystriakova, the report's lead author, says,
"The study recommends recognizing the 'at risk'
status of many bamboos and developing new strategies
and efforts to slow the loss of forest and secure the
survival of important forest species like bamboos."
Individuals of each species of bamboo flower once simultaneously
every 20 to 100 years and then die, and this pattern
makes bamboos vulnerable to rapid deforestation that
is restricting the areas in which they can survive.
Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP), said, "Bamboos are
some of the oldest and most fascinating life forms on
Earth with high economic and conservation value. Many
curious and unique species depend on bamboo. Trade in
these plants is worth as much as bananas or American
beef. Yet until now, their status and condition have
been largely ignored with many species taken for granted."
The new report highlights how vital it now is for the
international community to take a far greater interest
in bamboos, Toepfer said.
Millions of people use wild bamboo for construction,
handicrafts and food, and international trade in bamboo
products, mostly from cultivated sources, is worth more
than $2 billion annually. But humans are not alone in
depending on bamboos.
In Asia, endangered species that depend on bamboo are
the the giant panda, the red panda and Himalayan black
In Africa, mountain gorillas depend on bamboos for
up to 90 percent of their diet in some seasons. The
survival in the wild of the mountain bongo depends on
conservation of the bamboo thickets to which it migrates
during the dry season.
In Madagascar, the critically endangered greater and golden
bamboo lemurs depend on bamboo for much of their diet,
and the rarest tortoise in the world, the ploughshare
tortoise, is also connected with bamboos.
||" Trade in these plants
is worth as much as bananas or American beef. Yet
until now, their status and condition have been
largely ignored with many species taken for granted."
In South America, the spectacled bear, the mountain
tapir and many endangered bird species are connected
with bamboo in the Andes, Amazon and Atlantic forests.
Ian Hunter, director general, International Network
for Bamboo and Rattan said, "The report is the
first step towards quantifying existing resources of
bamboo. The survival of many potentially important bamboo
species may be threatened as they grow in forests that
are shrinking under human pressure."
"INBAR is greatly concerned about this potential
loss of biodiversity and wishes to encourage both in-situ
and ex-situ conservation," he said.
This study shows locations of high forest bamboo diversity
and the areas where deforestation risks are highest,
creating a valuable planning tool for conservation action.
Mark Collins, director of UNEP-WCMC, explains that
the researchers used unique mapping techniques to identify
for the first time the worldwide distribution of bamboos
and this has revealed some surprising findings. "Woody
bamboos are important world-wide. Many people will be
surprised to learn they are found not only in Asia but
also in the forests of the Amazon and the Andes and
even in African cloud forests.
"Governments at the World Summit on Sustainable
Development two years ago agreed to reduce the rate
of loss of biodiversity," Toepfer said. "This
new report makes it clear that conserving bamboo, for
the sake of people and for the sake of wildlife, should
have a high priority in this global effort."