Racket of smuggling Orchids from Sinharaja forest busted

A racket of smuggling out wild orchids from the Sinharaja forest and selling them in markets and possibly smuggling them out of the country has been exposed.

A team of wildlife officers from Mirissa have able to make the detection.

According to a report in the Sunday Times

Thieves who were selling wild orchids stripped from forests were arrested following a tipoff, a senior wildlife officer in Mirissa said the orchids they were selling included species such as Vanda tessellate (Rassna), Polydoda imbricata ( Nari Ala) and the highly-endangered Lycopdium plegmaria (Maha handaya).

The suspects appeared at the Matara Magistrate Courts on Tuesday charged with selling and exhibiting protected plant species.

They pleaded guilty and claimed they had not known the orchids were protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance. Later, it was revealed that the orchids were supplied by a person from Nikawaratiya. The men were each fined Rs 40,000.

The President of Sri Lanka Nature Conservationists and former Customs deputy director Samantha Gunasekera said wild plants were being sold in Badulla, Kurunegala, Kiribathgoda, Kelaniya and Maharagama as well as other towns.

He said the business was so brisk that such vendors sold about 12,000 plants in six months.

“Orchids are very needy plants, they need beneficial bacteria to grow. Plants in the wild grow very slowly and create their own ecosystem. If those plants are stripped from their natural area they could die and so would other plants in the area. Plants need to left undisturbed in their natural ecosystem,” Mr. Gunasekera said.

He said that the people should stop buying from people who sell orchids without potting and with broken roots as those are some of the indications of wild collected plants.

Mr. Gunasekara urged government agencies to propagate indigenous orchids and introduce them into the market, reducing demand for wild orchids.

The National Botanical Gardens said it was already involved in the propagation of endemic and indigenous orchids as blooms were in high demand.

“From the 1950s we have hybridised more than 3,000 varieties of orchids, mainly focusing on the cut flower industry,” National Botanical Gardens Director-General Dr. Shelomi Krishnarajah said. “As we have the technology for propagation we are also planning to hybridise and propagate new varieties of orchids for home gardening and export.”

She revealed officers had propagated Vesak orchid flowers (Dendrobium maccarthiae) in laboratories and reintroduced plants to forests as a project carried out by students.

Dr. Krishnarajah said orchid seeds found on the forest floor could be collected and easily propagated, and endangered plants reintroduced into the wild, the report said.

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