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 is also 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 has an important role in local culture and traditional ceremonies.
The species is threatened by fire, slash-and-burn farming, over-grazing (which inhibits regeneration) and over-exploitation of it’s highly valued products (such as bark and fruits).
The fruits are collected in late November and a juice is made for local consumption. The seeds are also collected and often eaten with rice. Preliminary research in the capital city, Antananarivo, has found two large cosmetic companies that sell products containing or made from baobabs and there is more interest in the fruits as they have been recently promoted as a ‘superfood’.
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 trees are frequently the subject of local stories and legends. The Global Trees Campaign project collected stories about individual renala as part of a competition to find the most culturally significant tree. Individual trees were found to have strong, local legends attached to them and were often the focal point of annual ceremonies associated with local beliefs.
The Global Trees Campaign has been supporting its partner Madagasikara Voakajy in a project to save the species as well as two other endemic baobabs. A Species Conservation Strategy has been agreed for the Grandidier’s baobab and work is continuing to protect, restore and sustainably manage these charismatic trees. The team is particularly focusing on working with local communities to ensure the sustainable management of this species in the wild.
Did you know?
All six of Madagascar’s endemic baobab trees are threatened with extinction.