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Darwin's Orchid

TODAY’S ENDANGERED ALL-STAR: Darwin’s Comet Orchid is only one of many endangered plants and animals on the island of Madagascar, which contains a fabulously rich trove of endemic species. While never having been to the island, Darwin predicted that the Comet Orchid must attract a pollinator with a foot-long tongue, since the flower sported a nectar-tube of that length. Some years later, a hawkmoth was discovered that fit the bill, now known as the “Predicta moth.” Madagascar’s orchids are protected under CITES, but the nation’s current political leaders are pursuing a devastating policy, sanctioning the logging of rosewood forests, which threatens the destruction of much biodiversity—from lemurs to rare plants—and lucrative ecotourism centered around the island’s extraordinary parks. A University of Connecticut graduate student, Kathryn Theiss, chosen as one of the Switzer Environmental Fellows of 2009, has been studying Darwin’s orchid. She found that, since the riots and political upheaval of 2009, timber sales have accelerated and wild populations of Darwin’s orchid and another of her subjects, Erasanthe henrici, identified by Kew Research Gardens as one of the rarest orchids in the world, have disappeared. Learn more at www.wildmadagascar.org, and help these species by supporting programs run by Conservation International, WWF-Madagascar, and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
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