Colourful fragile orchids that have endured for millennia are now increasingly vanishing from the wild in India due to habitat destruction and degradation, climate change as well as illegal trafficking, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund, India.
Orchids are one of the most threatened flowering plants in the world. India is no exception. Illegal harvesting and overexploitation pose a severe threat with species like Renanthera spp and a few slipper Orchids such as Cypripedium, Paphiopedilum, showing significant impact from the practice.
“Orchids are illegally collected and traded for ornamental plants, traditional medicine, and food. The increasing demand for it is leading to unsustainable harvesting practices. Orchids like Eulophia dabia and Dactylorhiza hatagirea populations are succumbing to overharvesting also,” said the report “Factsheet on India's Orchids in illegal wildlife trade.”
The increasing demand for Orchids for various purposes leads to unsustainable harvesting practices in India. Protected species of orchids such as Blue Vanda and Ladies Slipper have been found in wildlife seizures across India, the report pointed out.
Globally, Orchids belong to the second-largest family of flowering plants and have some of the most prized and traded flowers.
India is home to about 1256 Orchid species, of which 307 species are endemic to the country. Despite such vast biodiversity, only 11 species are protected under India's Wildlife (Protection) Act. Export of orchid species specified under the Schedules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, CITES (Appendix I), and in the EXIM Policy of India is prohibited.
IUCN Global Red List has assessed about 1641 Orchid species (July 2020) of which 747 are categorised as 'Threatened' with 197 listed as 'Critically Endangered’.
In India, Arunachal Pradesh is home to about 40% of Orchid species in the country and is often referred to as the 'Orchid Paradise of India.' About 8% of all flowering plants are Orchids. “Since Orchids are highly sensitive to the climatic changes in their habitat and have extensive, interconnected symbiotic relationships with organisms like insects, plants, and fungi, their presence is a positive indicator of the healthy ecosystem.”
The report stresses on raising awareness among local people to encourage them to preserve the wild Orchid species in their area.
Also, medicinally and ornamentally valuable orchids such as Renanthera, Cypripedium, Paphiopedilum, Habenaria intermedia, H. pubescens, Eulophia dabia, Dactylorhiza hatagirea, threatened by illegal trade and overexploitation should be included in various Schedules of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India for protection and to restrain their overharvesting from the wild. The report also favours promotion of sustainable and traceable use of threatened Orchids in legally permitted areas through village level Biodiversity Management Committees as an additional source of livelihood.