Parasitic weed destroying grassland habitats in Nepal

January 25, 2011NEPAL – Chitwan, Nepal – Some 200 kilometers south-west of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, a non-native weed is rapidly destroying plants, with menacing implications for local wildlife. The South American native is locally known as banmara (forest killer) or “mile-a-minute.” It was first identified in Nepal in 1975. The weed grows about 2.5 centimeters a day and has covered large sections of the 932-square-kilometre Chitwan National Park. “It produces up to 40,000 seeds a day, which are scattered in the forest by various means,” said Chanda Rana, researcher and maker of the film Mile-a-minute – A serious threat to the Chitwan National Park. “If we don’t make collective effort within five years, about 50 per cent of the habitat will be wiped out.” Conservationists said the plant is one of the biggest threats to wildlife, besides poaching. The area is home to the rare one-horned rhino and the endangered Royal Bengal tiger. Nepal has been battling rampant poaching of the animals, especially the rhino, whose horn is prized in China for its alleged aphrodisiac qualities.    The rhino population in Nepal stands at just over 400. More than 25 were reported dead in 2008-10. Nearly 100 were killed in 2001-02, when the country was at the peak of the Maoist insurgency. Two years ago, the government initiated a biological control campaign to check the weed’s growth. “We induced a gall fly in the plants that ate up nodes and checked the growth,” said Ram Babu Paneru, senior scientist at the Nepal Agriculture Research Council. “It worked to a point but lateral branches grew, so it was given up.” In January 2010, Rana initiated a campaign to eradicate the weed, which the prime minister joined. “The invasive plant is threatening the existence of flora, fauna and unique ecosystem of Chitwan,” Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal said at the time. “It is high time all should participate in controlling the invasion of the wild weed.” –Earth Times
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