Orchids belong to a family of non-woody perennials with more than 20,000 species worldwide. Celebrated for their attractive colors and shape, some are known to produce flowers that closely resemble female insects, an adaptation that turns male insects into pollinators. In the U.S. alone the orchid trade is now a multi-billion dollar industry.
Though rural Africans have consumed orchids for hundreds of years, the recent popularization of eating the plants in Zambia -- especially in urban centers -- has caused the recent boom in illegal trade, according to WCS.
The report found said that men and women from every age group dig up orchids in Tanzania to supplement their income. In some areas it is considered a family activity, with children assisting parents. Even primary school children participate in the collection during school holidays, Davenport said.
The fact remains that the Southern Highlands are currently losing significant resources at an alarming rate, said Davenport. The current trade in orchid tubers for consumption in Zambia is neither environmentally or economically in the best interests of Tanzania.