Chief park warden, Pius Mzimbe, said high demand for orchid tubers in neighbouring Zambia has been fuelling illegal harvesting of the plant inside the park, which is known as the Serengeti of Flowers, for being host to ‘one of the great floral spectacles of the world’.
Illegal harvest of wild orchid tubers for export appears to have grown, as conservators are largely unaware of on the plant’s connection to CD4 counts, because no scientific research has been conducted on the orchid tubers,” he said, adding that most of them were sold in Tunduma at the border between Tanzania and Zambia.
According to Mzimbe, the orchid tubers are sold at USD55 per bucket of 20 kgs, a situation that fuels illegal harvest in the park, which is home to a full 350 species of vascular plants, including 45 varieties of terrestrial orchid, which erupt into a riotous wildflower display of breathtaking scale and diversity during the main rainy season of late November to April.
“The illegal harvest is a challenge because gathering orchid tubers becomes unsustainable as once its tuber is harvested the plant does not survive.”
He, however, said that in order to address the challenge, park management in collaboration with Tanzania National Park had built a police post worth USD22,750 in Matamba Village which is close to the park.
“This is part of our initiatives to heighten regular patrols,” he said.
The official also cited fire as another challenge facing the park which is in most cases caused by people who sneak into the protected area in search of orchid tubers.
The 14-year-old park is well known for its floral significance – not only a multitude of orchids, but also the stunning yellow-orange red-hot poker and a variety of aloes, proteas, geraniums, giant lobelias, lilies and aster daisies, of which more than 30 species are endemic to southern Tanzania.
Big game is sparsely represented, though a few hardy mountain reedbuck and eland still roam the open grassland.
Protection of the Kitulo Plateau's unique flora was first proposed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in response to the growing international trade in orchid tubers and increased hunting and logging activities in the surrounding forests.
The park was formally gazetted in 2005, becoming Tanzania's fourteenth national park. TANAPA has stated that the park could be expanded in the future to include the neighbouring Mount Rungwe forest.