Conservation of Baobab trees

 
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Protection to baobab trees in Mannar, Mannar © Kumudini Ekaratne, IUCN, 2012

Objectives

1. Conserving historically important Baobab trees;

2. Attracting local and foreign tourists; and

3. Educating coastal communities on the value of Baobab trees.

Background

Baobab trees (Adansonia digitata) are trees native to the African continent, which are believed to have been brought to Sri Lanka by Arab traders around 700 AD. It is believed that these Arab traders, who brought camels, also brought Baobab trees — whose leaves were used to feed these animals. These trees, also known as ‘Upside-down trees’ are so named because their sparse foliage and meagre crowns give the trees the appearance of bearing roots instead of branches. Baobab trees are tall (up to 30m) and have enormous, swollen trunks, in which they store water during the dry season. Each trunk can store up to 120,000 litres of water. The oldest and the largest individual Baobab tree in Sri Lanka is found at Pallimunai and is reported to be over 700 years old.

In Sri Lanka, these trees — called Ali gas in Sinhalese and Perukku maram in Tamil — are now found mainly on Mannar Island, although in the past, they also grew in Jaffna and Puttalam. There are about 30 trees in Mannar, and although they were introduced to the Island, these Baobab trees are now a conspicuous component of the coastal biological diversity of Mannar and attract both local and foreign tourists.

Although Baobab trees are protected by law in Sri Lanka for their rarity and antiquity, they are now being threatened by rapid development and a sudden increase in the human population, because refugees — from the civil unrest — are returning now to the Island. In the last few years, two trees have been destroyed by indiscriminate and irresponsible use.

It is, therefore, essential that these Baobab trees in Mannar are conserved for their intrinsic value as unique elements of Mannar’s biodiversity as well as for their historic value.

Interventions:

• An awareness programme was conducted for 30 people from a fishing community, who live near areas with Baobab trees.

• An officer from the Coast Conservation and Coastal Resources Management Department served as a resource person to explain the historical value of Baobab trees in Sri Lanka and the benefits of conserving these trees.

• Protective, low walls were built round ten trees in Mannar Island.

• Awareness boards — that provide basic information about the historic and conservation values of Baobab trees — have been installed near the constructed walls.

 

Target beneficiaries

Community in Mannar.

Outputs

  • 10 Baobab trees protected with boundary walls.
  • 10 display boards with messages on the importance of Baobab trees. 

Accomplishments and challenges

  •  The erected sign boards appear to have attracted some tourists to these trees.
  •  Communities are now aware of the importance of and value to them from Baobab trees.
  • The construction of walls appears to have resulted in the reduction of damage to these trees, both from humans and animals.

Contributions to cross-cutting themes

The protective walls have reduced tree damage, both from humans and foraging animals - resilient to damage. 

Lessons Learned

The protective walls ended up serving a double purpose; they not only served to save the trees from destruction, but also served to attract tourists. 

Project Facts

Country

Location

Mannar

Topic

Duration

1st May 2011 to 30th Nov 2011

MFF Grant Amount

LKR 498,750.00

Implementing Partner

Mr N M M Alam

Al-Azhar Fisheries Co-operative Society, Pallimunai
Al-Azhar FSC Union Ltd
Uppukulam
Mannar 
Tel: + 94 717622111

"The project has given much-needed prominance to the baobab trees in the area" Mr K Alam

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