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Southeast Asian Botanical Gardens (SEABG) in collaboration

September 26, 2010

The workshop about how Botanical Gardens can help each other in preserving plants and managing national parks is over. Our particular workshop only involved the network of Southeast Asian Botanical Gardens, and this time we gathered representatives from Thailand, Laos, Burma, Vietnam, China (Kunming and Xishuanbanna), Taiwan, Cambodia and Singapore. For many of the participants this was a first time event. Although botanists have met each other on a professional level, these meetings involving as many regional countries as possible, and dealing with strategies about preservation and education rather than scientific questions, are new. I wonder though why our predecessors did not initiate such meetings 50 years ago?

One issue on Friday was to discuss how Botanical gardens can work to consolidate biodiveristy as a matter of national interest at ministry level. Many ideas came up:

1. Team up with tourist organizations and present figures from Australia and New Zealand where ecotourism has a major impact on economy. In Chiang Mai, ecotourism is dismissed as ‘a niche’ by the tourist organization, which rather focus on elephants, shopping and temples. Dr Eric Danell from Dokmai Garden, Chiang Mai, was appointed spokesperson of the SEABG at the upcoming ‘Mekong River Tourism Meeting’ in May 2011. Botanical Garden director Rik Gadella from Luang Prabang in Laos will set up a SEABG webside until that event. This website will facilitate contacts.

2. We also need to tell the governments that they must not destroy a national monument by building swimming pools, vast concrete resorts or golf courses. Such theme parks can be situated outside a national park. It is also good to establish a small trail where the majority of visitors go, and then save the major part of the national park from too much trampling, like on Doi Inthanon (Thailand) or Kotakinabalu in Borneo (Malaysia).

3. Small scale village programs are important too, such as the successful ‘Blue Vanda Project’ by Dr Santi Wathana at the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden. This project aims at engaging villagers in orchid biology (they did not even know that orchids reproduce by seeds), feeling pride of wild orchids, and eventually propagate orchids by seeds (for genetic diversity) and invite tourists to see the wild Vanda coerulea in glorious numbers not seen for 300 years. Satisfied villagers will report to governmental officials, and provide examples of success.

4. Our Vietnamese delegate Dr Nguyen Quoc Huy from the Hanoi University of Pharmacy proposed we should use their and Kunming’s research on medicinal plants, to provide examples of the importance of biodiversity. Fuzzy references to medicinal plants in general, without examples, must be avoided when discussing the importance of biodiversity.

5. Botanical gardens as centres for education, preservation and development of new methods and strategies should be emphasised. Due to the excellent facilities, and the enthusiastic Dr sun, we proposed that Kunming should be a centre for teaching staff of botanical gardens in Southeast Asia.

In conclusion, the future looks dark considering the alarming rate of habitat decline due to the overpopulation of Earth, but on the bright side there are many good forces operating day and night. Education is a key to turning the trend and to saving what can still be saved.

Updated on August 3, 2011: As a consequence of the alarming situation for many orchids, Dokmai Garden launched the Orchid Ark in April 2011.

Eric Danell

Good forces brain storming!

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