11 May 2004 With such iconic wildlife species as the giant panda, mountain gorilla and lemur facing an even-greater struggle for survival because of the “catastrophic loss” of wild bamboo, the United Nations environmental agency today called for urgent action to halt the “massive forest destruction” threatening this vital habitat.
As many as half the world’s 1,200 woody bamboo species may be in danger of extinction, according to the most comprehensive study ever undertaken on the subject released today by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) and the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).
“This new report highlights how vital it now is for the international community to take a far greater interest in these extraordinary plant species,” UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said.
Millions of people use wild bamboo, one of the world’s most ancient life forms, for construction, handicrafts and food. International trade in bamboo products, mostly from cultivated sources, is worth more than $2 billion annually – a trade Mr. Toepfer said is worth as much as bananas or beef from the United States.
Some 250 woody bamboo species have less than 2,000 square kilometres of forest – an area the size of London – remaining within their ranges. The study shows locations of high forest bamboo diversity and the areas where deforestation risks are highest, creating a valuable planning tool for conservation action.
The extraordinary life cycle of bamboos – individuals of each species flower once simultaneously every 20 to 100 years and then die – make them especially vulnerable to rapid deforestation that is restricting the areas in which they can survive.
The report identifies unique and endangered species, whose fates are intimately linked with those of bamboos, in every region where bamboos occur. In Asia these include the red panda and Himalayan black bear, and perhaps best known, the giant panda of which only 600 are left in the wild.
In Africa, mountain gorillas, of which less than 700 still remain in the wild, depend on bamboos for up to 90 per cent of their diet in some seasons. 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 intimately connected with bamboos. 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.