The Tanzanian government has announced plans to create a new national park in a region known for its staggering diversity of orchids, marking the first protected area in tropical Africa set aside primarily for its floral significance.
The 52-square-mile park will safeguard part of the Kitulo Plateau, part of Tanzanias Southern Highlands. Known as the Garden of God by the regions local people, this remote grassland is covered for six months of the year in wildflowers; balsams, honey-peas, bellflowers, irises, lilies, and scores of terrestrial orchids -- many of them found nowhere else on earth.
The area also contains a variety of other wildlife, including unique chameleons, skinks, frogs and one of the worlds rarest butterflies. In addition, the plateau is home to 12 globally significant bird species, including breeding colonies of blue swallows, mountain marsh widowbirds, and Denholms bustards.
The announcement to create this park is an innovative and laudable step demonstrating Tanzanias commitment to conserving biodiversity, said Dr Tim Davenport, a biologist for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which has been active in the Southern Highlands since 1999. Tanzania is a leader in protecting wildlife and wild lands, and both its government and Tanzania National parks are to be congratulated.
Last year, WCS released a report documenting how the regions orchids were being strip-mined by local people, who exported the plants into neighboring Zambia, where they are eaten as a delicacy. In the report, WCS warned that some species could be wiped out in a matter of years without appropriate management.
According to Davenport, the Tanzanian government has invited WCS to continue its conservation work on the plateau, and to take on an active role as the park becomes a reality, particularly in exploring management plans.