Friday, April 2, 2010

Orchid Fever

1. Some times ago when I finished reading "The Lizard King" by Bryan Christy, I was recommended to read "Orchid fever" by Eric Hansen. I went to Kinokunia KL and searched for it ...out of stock said the girl at the desk. Immediately I put an order and it came last week before I left for Hong Kong. The former book highlighted the gaps in CITES and its enforcement arms all over the world including Malaysia and the USA. Almost every month animals were caught and smuggled through the porous customs' net. Once in a while the authority caught one culprit!

2. The latter is about the similar scenario that is happening in the world of plants, in particular the orchids. Every body loves orchids for various reasons. The housewives had their plant houses and orchids are a feature. I like orchids only in the botanical sense. It is only last year that I described my first new species in Orchidaceae, Dendrobium terengganuensis, a beautiful yellow-flowered endemic of Terengganu.

3. Eric Hansen described his journey to many places in the world either in search of orchids or orchid tales. He went to Gunung Api, Sarawak in search for Paphiopedilum. Of course he denied taking any piece of specimen but only took his friends to study the habitat of the orchids. He described his encounters with the orchid lovers in many funny but serious ways. I enjoyed reading it but it left too many questions unanswered.

4. In the book he had interviewed some taxonomists whom I know including Prof. John Beaman ex University of Michigan and Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Dr. Phil Cribb of Kew Herbarium and Dr. de Vogel of Leiden. John's comments were very candid and I believed him, but the parts played by Dr. Phil Cribb and Dr. de Vogel in orchid research and CITES enforcement remained blurr to me. May be I will ask them myself if I were to meet them again.

5. There were a lot of conspiracies in orchid trades and conservation. Before CITES came into force the colonialist botanists and noble traders had taken many species of exotic orchids from all parts of the world and maintained them in private tropical house collections and research institutions and botanical gardens. As the enthusiasts expanded in number there were demands for these orchids, the supply came from these collections. It was only when the small-times traders came into the picture the big players went to lawyers and beaurocrats and asked them to create CITES. Malaysia also signed the treaty but Malaysian custom officers cannot differentiate an orchid leaf from any succulent leaf of non-orchids. The part the German customs confiscated the herbarium and the picked specimens made me laughed. I though the Germans were more educated, after all Hitler wanted to conquer the World for the Aryans.

6. One question still bothered me though, the argument put forth by orchids breeders and propagators that they were multiplying these rare orchids to make them more readily available to the collectors, institutions etc. Similarly Thailand established tiger farm to make tiger meat more readily available to the Chinese markets, hence hindering poachers to go after the wild ones. But many of my friends want "village chickens" to the fat and hormone-containing broilers!