A wide variety of orchids, including some native species of Panama, were widespread across the town of El Valle and its surrounding mountains in the past. The second largest inhabited volcanic crater in the world and the unique climate it produces used to provide favorable living conditions not only to humans but also to other living organisms, including orchids. Indeed, El Valle is home to dozens of orchid species, some of which are considered to be endemic only to this place on the planet.
Unfortunately, however, this exceptional diversity of orchids was not left unspoiled. Although unauthorized extraction of natural resources in the mountains surrounding El Valle was prohibited by Panamanian laws, some local inhabitants commenced poaching the precious wild orchids, and selling them in the local market, which did not come under scrutiny until very recently due to lax law enforcement of the government. Meanwhile, this unlawful business turned out to be very lucrative, which led to a significant decrease in their populations.
Establishment of APROVACA
We established APROVACA in 2001 in order to prevent further exploitation of the flowers from happening and thus save them from extinction. APROVACA successfully persuaded many of the former orchid gatherers to discontinue their wrongdoing, and subsequently set up a ranger station in conjunction with the National Authority of the Environment of Panama (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente, ANAM) to watch over the protected land, called the Cerro Gaital Natural reserve (El Monumento Natural Cerro Gaital). However, in the aftermath of the widespread orchid gathering that lasted over many years, those tropical flowers in this area still find themselves in a critical state. It is therefore imperative to augment their populations with plants grown in our nursery.
Reintroducing orchids into Cerro Gaital
Confronted with this situation, APROVACA conceived a project of reintroduction of orchids into the wild. We identified eight orchid species particularly adversely affected, namely, Acineta chrysantha, Cycnoches warscewiczii, Eriopsis biloba, Gongora armeniaca, Gongora gibba, Gongora tricolor, Houlletia tigrina, and Neomoorea irrorata. With the technical assistance of the IDIAP, we are now reproducing these orchids in our nursery. APROVACA plans to put them back to the natural reserve, once these plants grow sufficiently large. We are seeking to verify the effectiveness this reintroduction scheme is at the moment, by planting other less threatened species in the designated area every year. Once the reintroduction process is completed, our rangers will watch over the planted orchids until they begin to reproduce and the land is filled with their offspring.