In the December issue of Orchid Digest magazine, Harold Koopowitz wrote an interesting article about his visit to Peru. He and his companions had many adventures travelling through rough terrain to document and photograph a recently discovered patch of Phragmipedium Kovachii, deep in the jungle.
“I happened to return to my hotel at lunch time with my friend, Manuel Camacho who is a local orchid enthusiast and guide to the Phragmipedium kovachii sites. We noticed a double cabin pick truck in the door of the hotel. What we saw in this pickup shocked us both and we could not believe what we were seeing!
There were 7 large rice and coffee sacks stuffed full with several hundred of the largest P. kovachii that we have ever seen with leaves fully 2-3 feet long sticking out the tops of the sacks with no attempt to hide them. ”
“In early September, a friend of mine went to the site which Koopowitz visited & photographed only to find it totally wiped out including all visible seedling except for two plants that they saw very high up out of reach on the cliff which is the only reason they are still there. They took photographs of this site as it is today which I am forwarding to Koopowitz for the record. We know who did the deed because he sold several hundred to an Ecuadorian dealer and others to a dealer in Lima. He offered 200 to me which I turned down. ”
Date: Wed, 24 Dec 2003 14:51:21 +0800
From: “Peter O’Byrne”
Subject: [OGD] Phragmepedium kovachii sites destroyed.
To Tennis and others who think that the only way to “save” orchid species is to rip them out of the wild & then love them to death in the alien and artificial environment of a greenhouse …. congratulations.
You will be overjoyed to read the following. People like you have successfully “saved” P. kovachii from extinction.
The following is the first part of a lengthy posting by Olaf Gruss on the Orchid Spring Discussion Board on Tuesday, December 23. In Olaf’s posting it is not clear which bits (if any) were written by Olaf, and which bits were written by Lee Moore.
Today I get from a friend a very interesting but also horrible story about Phrag. kovachii. The original mail was written by Lee Moore and send to many orchidists all over the world.
I have just returned from my farm in Moybamba this week and what I am going to relate to you about what I have seen and discovered on this trip will shock and enrage you.
I happened to return to my hotel at lunch time with my friend, Manuel Camacho who is a local orchid enthusiast and guide to the Phragmipedium
kovachii sites. We noticed a double cabin pick truck in the door of the hotel. What we saw in this pickup shocked us both and we could not believe
what we were seeing!
There were 7 large rice and coffee sacks stuffed full with several hundred of the largest P.kovachii that we have ever seen with leaves fully 2-3 feet long sticking out the tops of the sacks with no attempt to hide them. I wanted to take a video or photo but I had left my cameras at the farm and was helpless.
My wife had seen the farmer Faustino Medina hanging around the hotel earlier that and asked why he was here. He just said he came to see some friends. Farmer Faustino is the original discoverer of the P.k and now we know why he was hanging around our hotel. We had heard rumors about a new site being found and now it was confirmed because the previous four sites have been totally wiped out.
This was just a coincidence and a one time chance that we happened to come in while the truck was parked at the hotel to see this contraband. This
makes me wonder how many others that we do not have the chance to see. Since it was Saturday, we could not report this to INRENA to have this man
detained. I took down his license etc. and found out from the hotel reception who he was and where he lived which was Tarapoto. I also learned that he
comes to Moyobamba very often and does the same thing. So he checked out with his truck load of Phragmipedium kovachii and went on his way
with no one to stop him. We went to Tarapoto on Monday to make the denouncement to INRENA about this atrocity. Guess what? All government
offices in Peru had shut down totally until the 6th of January for summer vacations. Only in Peru does things like this happen. The whole government shuts down for 3 weeks… can you believe this?
Anyway, I found that there had an exhibition of the famous new and most ‘valuable’ orchid in the world at a downtown hotel and was featured on
the local TV the week before. Incidentally, INRENA, said or did nothing about this. After investigating this, I found that the exhibitor had been the owner of the pickup truck, Ing. Kenneth Reategui who had a small recreational park and restaurant on the outskirts of town. I went there in hopes of getting some pictures as evidence. After paying my entrance fee of 1 Sol to this abandoned park, I asked the young boy that seemed to be in charge about these new special slipper orchids. He said that Mr. Kenneth brought a lot of them in the other day but has taken them all to Lima to a big orchid dealer in Lima.
Also, we learned that a few weeks after Koopowitz visited the last known site that was teaming with P. kovachii about which he wrote in the Orchidist, a helicopter with cargo boxes on the skids, came in to pick up an unknown large quantity in sacks. The helicopter did not land at the site but picked them up on the road after they had been brought out by ‘orchid enthusiasts’. We have the name of the helicopter company and the registration number that has been reported to INRENA which has done nothing about it. We are trying to investigate this ourselves to find out who chartered that helicopter on that date to make an official denouncement with documentation.
In early September, a friend of mine went to the site which Koopowitz visited & photographed only to find it totally wiped out including all
visible seedling except for two plants that they saw very high up out of reach on the cliff which is the only reason they are still there. They took
photographs of this site as it is today which I am forwarding to Koopowitz for the record. We know who did the deed because he sold several hundred to an Ecuadorian dealer and others to a dealer in Lima. He offered 200 to me which I turned down. He is Jose Mendoza who was the taxi driver that
took Kovach to Progresso when he got his single plant that he took to Selby for identification. We know him well because he has been our
taxi driver for a couple of years until recently when we dispatched him after finding out what he was doing.
Now, a new site has been found by farmer Faustino which also is quickly going the way of the Dodo Bird. These statements are fact and not rumor because we live there and know everyone and almost everything that is going on.
Unfortunately, the Phragmipediium kovachii has had a very sad history since its discovery by farmer Faustino Medina in May a year and a half ago. The
first plants were sold to truck drivers and tourists on the side of the road as pretty flowering plants for less than a dollar. Naturally, they
never would have survived in such hands. Then along came Villena who bought up all she could get her hands on and then Kovach got his single
plant left over after Villena left.
Farmer Faustino had found two sites which were quickly wiped out. My wife was able to get a hold of some of these for our nursery before they were all gone. But these were sabotaged by a local jealous ‘orchid enthusiast’ in an attempt to keep us out of the future market. Most of these died but we were able to salvage a few of these which are growing well now. Then farmer Juan found two more sites which were also quickly wiped out. The second site
being the one that Koopowitz visited and wrote about but is now gone with the wind. And now comes farmer Faustino with another recent find
which will not last very long. I only saw ONE pickup truck load going out. How many more have I not seen and are yet to go out until those
are also wiped out? This last site will not see the New Year!