The iconic baobabs of Madagascar symbolise the island’s unique wildlife as much as its lemurs. The magnificent Grandidier’s baobab (known locally as Renala) is the best-known species, but also one of the most threatened – classified as Endangered.
Restricted to the south west of Madagascar (Menabe and Atsimo Andrefana regions), the Renala is a giant, long-lived tree that is highly valued locally. Its fruits and seeds are eaten, its bark is used for rope, roofing and medicinal products, and it is an important part of local culture and traditions.
The species is threatened by fire, slash-and-burn farming, over-grazing (which inhibits regeneration) and over-exploitation.
The outer bark is removed and broken into small pieces and sold as a calcium-rich medicine. It can also be stripped, dried and used to make rope. There is heavy demand for rope made from baobabs because it is favoured over nylon for tethering cattle. The fruits are collected in late November and juice is made for local consumption. The seeds are collected and eaten with rice. Preliminary research in the capital city, Antananarivo, has found two large cosmetic companies that sell products containing or made from baobabs.
The trees are frequently the subject of local stories and legends. The Global Trees Campaign project has collected stories about individual Renala as part of a competition to find the most culturally significant tree.
There has been little comprehensive data on the uses of the species but research, funded by the Global Trees Campaign, has recently taken place into local uses for the species. Further research into the extent of bark and fruit exploitation is needed. Community awareness raising and education in local schools about the importance of the tree is also a priority.
The Global Trees Campaign has been supporting its partner Madagasikara Voakajy in a project to save the species. A Species Conservation Strategy has been agreed for the species and work is continuing to protect, restore and sustainably manage these charismatic trees.
Did you know?
All six of Madagascar’s endemic baobab trees are threatened with extinction.