Endangered Species Day, May 11, 2024

Endangered Species Day, May 11, 2024

Project Management Officer

Ms Olfa Karous
Project Management Officer
Sahara and Sahel Observatory

On this day dedicated to raising awareness of endangered species, why do not we focus our attention on Africa and its rich plant diversity. The African wild flora and its cultural diversity vie with one another, while the lost species weigh heavy in the twists of time. Today, living with the harsh reality of seeing other natural treasures on the brink of extinction is quite scary. Nevertheless, we see a future full of hope, driven by gratitude to those who are committed to safeguarding our precious plant heritage.

Let’s have a look back: missing extinct species
African natural history tells the story of extinct species, once flourishing and majestic in their original habitat. Our ecosystems were full of life and each plant added to their magnificence. Today, here we are living in a world marked by the emptiness left by these irreplaceable losses, chapters torn from our plant heritage, leaving behind a feeling of sorrow and nostalgia. A heartbreaking example of this disappearance is the Leucadendron Spirale I.Williams , known as Wolseley's Conebush. Formerly present in the Breede River valley between Wolseley and Botha (South Africa), this flowering shrub was a core part of the fynbos, a natural plant formation of southern South Africa, Its presence restricted to four observations between 1801 and 1833 suggests  that it would only survive in the herbarium collections.

Losing again: quite possible
Today, a disturbing threat is becoming a reality: despite conservation efforts, many plant species remain prone to extinction, threatened by deforestation, climate change, pollution and other destructive human activities. 31.7% is the percentage of vascular plant species in tropical Africa that could be threatened with extinction, enough to make blood run cold. For example, Brackenridgea zanguebarica Oliv., also known locally as "yellow peeling plane" or "Mutavhatsindi", is a tree widely used for medicinal and magico-religious purposes in the Vhembe district, Limpopo, in South Africa. However, the increasing overexploitation of its roots and peel, combined with unsustainable collection, is a serious threat to its regeneration, especially with the uneasy natural germination of the seeds. All these factors added to reproductive inefficiency, speed up a critical decline in its population and place it on the verge of collapse. This species is currently struggling to survive in the Thengwe village alone, highlighting the immediate need for conservation efforts.

Speaking of endangered species, the majestic baobabs, landmark of the African savannah, are having a hard time surviving. According to the IUCN: out of the nine species listed, three are about to disappear: Adansonia suarezensis H.Perrier, Adansonia grandidieri Baill. and Adansonia perrieri Capuron. Their habitats are devastated by agriculture, lightning, drought and other factors. Bearing the “palaver tree” nickname in West Africa, the baobab is the symbol of community gathering and resolution. Its disappearance would therefore not only be an ecological tragedy, but also a cultural and social loss.

Bearers of hope: the future is still promising
In the middle of all these challenges, a glimmer of hope is gradually emerging thanks to those who endeavor to preserve biodiversity. They are the silent protectors of our ecosystems, nature enthusiasts, botanists and researchers who fight against the forces of decline. A remarkable example of these causes for hope is the international team of botanists from the National Herbarium of Rwanda. These scientists rediscovered in 2023 a significant population of the Nymphaea thermarum Eb.Fisch., also known as the miniature Rwanda water lily, a species that we almost lost in the wild. Let us also not forget the local populations who, for generations, have respectfully preserved the sacred plants of their traditions. Their age-old knowledge and sustainable practices, particularly in agroforestry and permaculture, help preserve the botanical diversity of their regions. 

This inspiring commitment fuels our hope for a brighter future where the generations to come can still marvel at the wonders of African nature.