What it takes to keep a species alive

An article in The Australian describes the high secrecy and scope of effort required to save a native orchid species from extinction — from both poachers, and noxious weeds that are choking them out:

Volunteers in orchid rescue
Rebecca DiGirolamo – October 04, 2004

IN secret locations across the Adelaide Hills, hundreds of volunteers work by stealth clearing pockets of native bush to carefully preserve a fragile native orchid teetering on the brink of extinction.

They have spent more than 700 hours removing noxious weeds that threaten the largest population of Leafy Greenhood orchids found in South Australia.

So vulnerable is the remnant stock of about 11,000 Leafy Greenhoods (Pterostylis cucullata – ed) that a management dossier mapping their location at four sites in the Mt Lofty Ranges is kept under lock and key after an entire population was pilfered by collectors back in the 1980s.

“Fifty years ago the Adelaide Hills had many, many more orchids, and people used to pick them in bunches,” said volunteer Jenny Skinner.

“But what they didn’t know was that the orchids don’t transplant well and they wilt when picked.”

The bulk of the vulnerable species, also found in declining numbers in Tasmania and Victoria, is spread across six sub-populations in the Belair National Park near Adelaide.

While illegal collectors are a danger, the biggest threat is exotic weeds competing for native bushland and urban development, with a golf course and shopping centre destroying two populations.

“Four populations have become extinct due to weed invasion in recent times,” said ecologist Tim Jury.

Mr Jury leads the orchid action group and so far the group has restored two sub-populations. “They are recovering but more work needs to be done,” Mr Jury said.

Ms Skinner said she eagerly awaited the brief flowering of the orchid around September each year but the battle continued to ensure the plant’s survival.

I wonder what goes on in the mind of people who poach. Obviously, they are concerned only for their own profit, regardless of whether the source of their profit is exterminated by their actions. Are they stupid? Are they psychopaths? I don’t get it. It reminds me of the story of the lunatic bird hunters in Malta. When news got around the island that one last nesting pair of Maltese Falcons was nesting on the Hunterisland7_1cliffs, the race was on to catch and kill them. In their teenie little brains, hunters were determined to bag the birds because if they didn’t, somebody else would get ’em anyway.

One of the most spectacular of the greenhood orchids, the endangered leafy greenhood Pterostylis cucullata.This amazing, ancient plant was thought to be lost to science until rediscovered on Hunter Island, near Tasmania, in about 1970. The leafy greenhood grows only along the very old (Holocene) sand dunes that transverse certain sections of the island.