Phrag kovachii - Report from Peru

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Jun 26, 2006
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Nipomo California
I have a contact in Peru who is working with conservation of wild orchids. He is a local person living near Moyabomba, which is the town near where Phrag. kovachii is found. I thought it would be interesting to hear what he has to say about the current situation of wild kovachii so I asked him to write a report. He did write a very informative report and I had it professionally translated from Spanish. It is clear from his report that kovachii is not extinct in the wild.... yet. Here is his report:


This species lives approximately between 1800 to 2300 m.a.s.l. in rocky substrate of calcareous material, and in zones of steep slopes, habitat in places with permanent humidity, accompanied by a herbaceous vegetation (like mosses, lichens, ferns and even other species of orchids), and forest species of average height. The rocky substrate is accompanied by small rests of organic matter. The habitat presents a good illumination and ventilation which has a direct influence on the growth of the plants that show little vegetative development and yellowish green foliage. But it is possible to mention that between 2100 to 2300 m.a.s.l. exist populations with less illumination, where one will find plants with more developed foliage.

The main time of flowering includes the months of January to April, but it does exclude the fact that there are plants flowering throughout the year. Species of the same family of the species Maxilaria, Anguloa (Anguloa virginales), Ida, Sobralia, and others also share the same habitat.
The place where this species is located is a tropical high forest which characteristic is a high biodiversity of flora and fauna, considered "hot spots" of the world-wide biodiversity, which they include between the 1000 to 3000 m.a.s.l.

This is a species that has been considered one of the best discoveries of the last times as far as orchids are concerned. It shows to a fuchsia colour flower with oval petals and lips in the form of a shoe with a diameter of approximately of 14 by 8 cm. Some plants with greater diameter of flowers have even been reported. This has aroused the interest of many collectors and investigators, which has caused a strong depredation of its habitat on the part of dealers and local farmers. At the present time there is a continuous chain of dealers who starts from the illegal extraction from their habitat, their transfer to Moyabamba where they sell at a price of approximately 3 to 7 Us Dollars for a flowering plant or one with buds. In Moyabamba there are several middlemen who buy and sell to other buyers coming from Ecuador or Lima; the price fluctuates between 7 and 20 Us Dollars, in those cases plants that have not complied with the requirements to be able to be taken by these third people, the hoarders of Moyabamba sell them to local people who have become fond of them, some can even be found in the market with non appropriate substrates in many cases already dying; it is important to point out that most of the plants that have been bought in Moyabamba have finished dying.

Location of Populations of the Phragmipedium kovachii

The first discovered population is located between the sector Venceremos and the small village of Jorge Chavez, with at the present time a single plant surviving on a rock wall of the Fernando Belaúnde Terry Highway. The sector Venceremos is the main entrance to the two following populations; the main contacts in this place are the brothers Juan and Jaime Pérez Rojas who until the present time are commercialising this species. Entering by this place approximately 1 hour away they are the lands of Mr. Dominal Espinosa Mondragón, who admonished by INRENA, is prohibiting people from extracting these species. From this place to the second population there is an approximately one hour’s walk and where it is possible to appreciate 5 mother plants and approximately 20 small young plants that already show flowers and buds and several smaller plants in an extension of approximately 2500 m2

Following the road on the banks of the Serranoyacu River, approximately at one hour’s distance is the greatest population, distributed in an area of approximately 400 hectares, with a totally rough relief with cliff sides and hills that lodge small colonies of the species.

This last population is being depredated through two entrances, one that goes from the sector Progreso having as its guide and extractor Mr. Faustino Medina Bautista, who uses logging road and from this area goes walking an average of 17 hours until finding the tributary ravines of the Aguas Verdes River, returning by the Sector El Peról, coming to the bridge of the Aguas Verdes River, a walk of approximately 10 hours, and this would be the other entrance.
Yes very interesting, if it's restricted like that then it's no surprise it took so long to discover.
It may be interesting to note that the first Pk habitat was discovered by farmer Faustino Medina Bautista, in November of 2001 just after he arrived there from the neighboring Department of Cajamarca. He actually was contracted by the farm owner, his friend, who contracted him and his family to cultivate the farm. It was then that Faustino discovered Pk’s in bloom.

The location is not near Moyobamba, but about 60 miles and a 3 hrs drive West of it.

One half year before Kovach ever put eyes on Pk, in November 2001, our party of five in two 4WD’s stopped at Faustino’s roadside kiosk. Faustino came up and offered us an “orchid with a big red flower.” If we could wait 15 minutes , he would get one for us. It was late in the afternoon , our drivers said that we did not have 15 minutes to spare, for we needed to get to our hotel in Chachapoyas before darkness set in.
Thus we missed Pk (fame?) by 15 minutes.

Moyobamba is known as Orchid City Peru and many collected Pk’s, if not all, come to its nurseries and markets, brought there by collector Faustino, and farmers like him.

It is well known that many Pk’s die in the Moyobamba markets. This has been going on since June of 2002.

Dug up and shocked, coming from a habitat at 1900 masl that is cool, has high humidity and moisture laden substrates, best specimens growing in the shade, orchid growers were not at all surprised that these did not survive.. Ripped out of the soils, losing half or more of their roots, brought down to the much warmer temperatures at 800 masl (Moyobamba) with a much lower relative humidity, often exposed to full sun, roots dehydrating, are you surprised?

When the Pk’s first came to the Moyobamba market, some farmers got $ 25.- and more per plant, today they are lucky to get $ 5.- per plant; many are sold for less.

To state that they are not yet extinct is correct, but so what? It is only a matter of time. How long it will take is anyone’s guess. No doubt there are colonies across the next mountains and because the Andes cover a large area and have few roads, we may erroneously believe that orchids will always be there.

Faustino, when the prices were high only needed to walk 15 minutes to fetch a Pk. . Soon after his farm’s habitat was depleted, a much bigger one was found with an estimated 2000-3000 mature plants. That one was a 4-5 hours walk from the road and the prices were already much lower in Moyobamba. Since that habitat was depleted, Faustino Medina Bautista, has been willing to walk 17 to 20 hours to fetch a few Pk from a poorly populated habitat and sell them for only $ 3.- to 7.- each . That does not surprise me at all. However, it confirms what I and others have been saying for the past 31 months , namely that the known big habitats have been depleted of all Pk.

Once the markets are flooded with artificially propagated Pk, we no longer have to fear the greed driven destruction that took place of this species in known habitats. We can then go back to a given depleted habitat and sow seeds from nursery plants in Peru known to have been collected from that habitat. A well known orchid collector and nursery owner in Moyobamba has discussed this with me as something he wants to do. I support him. The fact is that orchid collectors generally are less destructive to orchid species than slash and burn farming and the clear cutting of forests.
:sob: those are horrible things going on in Moyobamba there! The price to pay there not only includes money but includes all the death that occurs.
Just think what's been happening in the name of feeding people's stomachs there in South America now for quite a few years then. Collecting plants for profit is wrong. Collecting to save them from slash and burn farmers is ?????.

Given the limited range of this and other plants/variants, what has been lost here and in Indonesia where slash and burn farming pays no attention to the preservation of the local fauna (orangutangs in Indonesia) and flora?

Where is the "intent" of CITES there???

I hate self serving, counter productive and ill thought red tape.

Stephan said:
Just think what's been happening in the name of feeding people's stomachs there in South America now for quite a few years then. Collecting plants for profit is wrong. Collecting to save them from slash and burn farmers is ?????.

Stephan, I cannot totally agree with you. Certainly native American corn is as rare as Phrag. kovachii, the difference is that it was cultivated. If groups were aware and programs developed to get indegenous people to set aside local areas for long term development of the resources then hopefully the plants would be cultivated also. If you told a group of farmers to hold of on killing the native plants to grow food crops and the middlemen didn't make a gazillion times the profit maybe some would try to cultivate the, then more profitable orchids?

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