Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Weed threatens Nepal's jungles

The lush jungles of the Chitwan national park in southern Nepal are among the last remaining refuges of the endangered royal Bengal tiger and the rare one-horned rhino.

But conservationists say the huge wildlife reserve is under threat from a foreign invader that is destroying its delicate eco-system, with potentially catastrophic implications for the animals that live there.

Over the past decade and a half, a non-native creeper dubbed "mile-a-minute" for its rampant growth has covered large swathes of the 932-square-kilometre (579-square-mile) park, a major tourist attraction and UNESCO world heritage site.

Biologist Naresh Subedi says the plant, micania micrantha, has already engulfed more than a third of prime rhino habitat in the national park, and believes the impact on wildlife could be devastating.

"Micania is ranked as one of the most invasive plants in the world," said Subedi, who works for the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) in Chitwan.

"It can smother, choke and pull over other plants, it causes soil erosion, and no single technique has yet proved effective for its long-term control.

"More than a third of the rhino habitat in Chitwan has now been covered to a greater or lesser degree, posing a serious threat to the population."

Although micania is edible, it is nutritionally deficient compared to the native grasses of Chitwan which can sustain "mega-herbivores" like rhinos which require a large, daily intake of nutrient-rich vegetation.


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