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Forest loss catastrophic for wild bamboo

Urgent action is needed to protect one of the world’s most ancient life forms and the species that depend on it. A new study estimates that as many as half of the world’s 1200 woody bamboo species may be in danger of extinction as a result of massive forest destruction.

London/Nairobi, 11 May 2004 - Urgent action is needed to protect one of the world’s most ancient life forms and the species that depend on it. A new study estimates that as many as half of the world’s 1200 woody bamboo species may be in danger of extinction as a result of massive forest destruction.

Consequently, many extraordinary and vulnerable species such as lemurs, giant pandas and mountain gorillas that depend almost entirely on bamboo for food and shelter face an even-greater struggle for survival.

Millions of people use wild bamboo for construction, handicrafts and food. And international trade in bamboo products, mostly from cultivated sources, is worth more than $2 billion annually.

The study, produced by INBAR (International Network for Bamboo and Rattan) and UNEP-WCMC (United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre), is the most comprehensive ever undertaken on the subject and uses novel analyses to combine data on the distributions of bamboo species and on existing forest cover. It shows that many bamboo species, including relatives of those cultivated commercially, have tiny amounts of forest remaining within their native ranges.

Some 250 woody bamboo species have less than 2000 km2 of forest (an area the size of London, UK) remaining within their ranges. This study shows locations of high forest bamboo diversity and the areas where deforestation risks are highest, creating a valuable planning tool for conservation action.

The extraordinary life cycle of bamboos – individuals of each species flower once simultaneously every 20 to 100 years and then die – make them especially vulnerable to rapid deforestation that is restricting the areas in which they can survive.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “Bamboos are some of the oldest and most fascinating life forms on Earth with high economic and conservation value. Many curious and unique species depend on bamboo. Trade in these plants is worth as much as bananas or American beef. Yet until now, their status and condition have been largely ignored with many species taken for granted. This new report highlights how vital it now is for the international community to take a far greater interest in these extraordinary plant species.”

“Governments at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) two years ago agreed to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity. This new report makes it clear that conserving bamboo, for the sake of people and for the sake of wildlife, should have a high priority in this global effort,” he said.

Ian Hunter, Director General, International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) comments: “The report is the first step towards quantifying existing resources of bamboo. The survival of many potentially important bamboo species may be threatened as they grow in forests that are shrinking under human pressure. INBAR is greatly concerned about this potential loss of biodiversity and wishes to encourage both in-situ and ex-situ conservation.”

Mark Collins, Director of UNEP-WCMC, explains that the researchers have used unique mapping techniques to identify for the first time the worldwide distribution of bamboos and this has revealed some surprising findings: “Woody bamboos are important world-wide. Many people will be surprised to learn they are found not only in Asia but also in the forests of the Amazon and the Andes and even in African cloud forests.

“They are associated with threatened plant species and many highly specialised animal species including the bamboo lemurs of Madagascar, Giant Pandas, Mountain Gorillas, and tiny species such as the world’s second smallest bat (3.5cm), which roosts inside bamboo stems. “

Peter Wyse-Jackson, Interim Chairman of the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation, has welcomed the report and comments that it is an important contribution to implementing the CBD's Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, which aims to halt the current and continuing loss of plant diversity.

“By assessing conservation status, identifying areas important for bamboo diversity and in-situ conservation of threatened species, and providing information on the use of wild species, the Bamboo Biodiversity report contributes directly to implementation of the Global Strategy and achievement of its targets.”

Nadia Bystriakova, the report’s lead author, concludes. ‘The study recommends recognising the ‘at risk’ status of many bamboos and developing new strategies and efforts to slow the loss of forest and secure the survival of important forest species like bamboos.’

Valuable renewable resource

International trade in products from cultivated bamboo is valued at US $2 billion annually. Among the internationally traded products derived from this important renewable resource are edible bamboo shoots, furniture and paper. The commercial potential of many wild species has yet to be evaluated. Millions of people depend on wild bamboos for food, construction material, furniture and even musical instruments. The uses of bamboo range from acupuncture needles to zithers, from flooring to firewood and paper to posts.

Unique and endangered species

The report identifies unique and endangered species, whose fates are intimately linked with those of bamboos, in every region where bamboos occur.

In Asia these include the red panda and Himalayan black bear, and perhaps best known, the giant panda.
In Africa, mountain gorillas depend on bamboos for up to 90% of their diet in some seasons. The survival in the wild of the mountain bongo depends on conservation of the bamboo thickets to which it migrates during the dry season.

In Madagascar, the critically endangered greater and golden bamboo lemurs depend on bamboo for much of their diet, and the rarest tortoise in the world, the ploughshare tortoise, is also intimately connected with bamboos.

In South America, the spectacled bear, the mountain tapir and many endangered bird species are connected with bamboo in the Andes, Amazon and Atlantic forests.


For more information from UNEP, please contact: Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP’s Division of Communications and Public Information, Tel: +254 20 623292, Mobile: +254 (0) 733 682656, Email:
or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, Tel: +254 20 623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755, E-mail:
or Robert Bisset, UNEP Spokesperson for Europe on Tel: 33 1 44377613, Mobile: 33 6 22725842, E-mail:

Will Rogowski, Head of Marketing UNEP-WCMC, Tel: +44 (0) 1223 277314, Email:
or Rachel Holdsworth, Tel +44 (0) 1954 202789,
About Bamboo Biodiversity – the report is in two parts, volume 1, Asia Pacific and volume 2, Africa, Madagascar and the Americas. To download volume 1, click on:
To download volume 2, click on:

The report is an important input into the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, which aims to halt the current and continuing loss of plant diversity.


• Although very few bamboo species are listed as endangered by IUCN, one third to one half of the world’s 1200 woody bamboos may now be in danger of extinction because so little forest habitat remains within their ranges.

• These include one African species, 10 endemic species in Madagascar and 95 species in the Americas that have less than 2000 km2 of forest remaining within their ranges. Over 180 woody bamboo species in the Asia Pacific region have similarly limited amounts of natural forest habitat remaining.

• Bamboos can be very fast growing; a Japanese species grows 1.2 metres

Friday 14 May 2004
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