Palm Tree in Danger: Can Yemen Save It? [Archives:1998/14/Last Page]

April 6 1998

The Bankauale palm, or “antoog” as it is known in Yemen, exists in only 3 countries in the entire world: Yemen, Djibouti and Somalia. It has very small yellow flowers and produces tiny pea-like black seeds, and is thought to have been left behind from a period several million years ago when all continents were joined up. When these continents broke up, all Bankauale relatives went to Australia or Asia and one species was left behind in this region of the world.
Ms. Hilary Welch who had recently visited Yemen to monitor the migration routes of birds of prey is also interested in the conservation of wildlife in all its forms, and the Bankauale in particular. “This palm’s closest relative, from the same family but of different species, occurs in the region extending from the Himalayas to Australia,” she explained.
Dwindling Numbers
A graphic designer by profession, Hilary and her husband Geoff have studied the trees in Djibouti, counted and mapped them. “We found about 300 in Djibouti and only 50 in Somalia, so it is declining in these countries.
The Bankauale is a very important tree because it grows with a long and straight trunk, over 20 m tall when it is fully grown. It is very good for building because it provides a long, straight log. But it is being misused at the moment.
“We counted here 1,400 trees in Wadi Hajar, just west of Mukallah. So Yemen has the most important Bankauale population in the world,” said Hilary, adding, “but the thing that worries us is that there are about 2,000 stumps of the same tree that were cut.
“It is almost considered extinct in Somalia. In Djibouti, the trees are very old and there are very few young ones. So when the old trees die the population will disappear.
“This is the first time that we have information on all 3 sites and can see how very important Yemen is for saving the palm for future generations.”

Healthier in Yemen
“In Yemen, there is a lot of young growth and the trees look very healthy, and are growing in damp areas which is exactly what they need,” explained Hilary. The Bankauale needs a damp area because the seeds drop to the ground and where it is moist. There they would germinate and grow. “In Djibouti, for example, the moist areas where the palm grows are also areas that have been developed as gardens for growing vegetables and fruit trees. So the water is being diverted from the wadi where the palm trees grow and into the gardens. The trees are still growing seeds but there is no moisture in the ground to let them germinate.”
However, all the trees Hilary and Geoff had counted in Yemen were about the same age – 10 m tall, which is also the same age as those that are cut. “We’ll be writing up what we have found and passing it on to the Environment Protection Council, in the hope that some conservation measures can be made to continue to utilize the palm for building material in a sustainable way. We feel at the moment that in 10 years time all the trees will be gone.”

Public Awareness
“There needs to be an awareness of what the Bankauale needs are,” announced Hilary. “There needs to be some restriction on how tall the trees are when they are cut down. So that the young ones are not removed.” That could be a problem in Yemen where their areas are being rapidly developed. “It is very important to ensure that there are areas where the palm is allowed to grow and where its wet.”
Some trees must be left to provide seeds and that they are allowed to grow to maturity. “There also must be some use of the palm because if people are not allowed to use it they will have no respect for them.”

Adel J. Moqbil,
Yemen Times