One of Madagascar’s iconic baobab tree species has been declared Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, considered the global authority on the status of the world’s plant and animal species. This is the highest category of threat, reflecting a very real and imminent danger of a species becoming extinct in the wild.

The species uplisted by the IUCN, Perrier’s baobab, numbers around 150 individuals and is restricted to a small range in Madagascar.

Instantly recognisable for their small crown of horizontal branches and massive swollen trunks, six of Madagascar’s seven baobab tree species are found nowhere else on Earth.

Perrier’s baobab is threatened by habitat loss, artisanal gold mining and climate change. These threats are exacerbated by the practice of burning land for agriculture, and grazing, meaning that few seedlings survive to maturity in the wild.

FFI's decade of work

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working with local NGO partner Madagasikara Voakajy since 2010, as part of the Global Trees Campaign, supporting communities in the north and west to protect baobabs. This work includes improving protection of the areas where baobabs are found, working to reduce fires, and planting out baobabs seedlings in the wild.

A wild baobab seedling. Credit: Alicky Davey/FFI
A wild baobab seedling. Credit: Alicky Davey/FFI

A factor that may compound the threats facing these magnificent trees is that several animals that could have acted as seed dispersers in the past, such as giant lemurs, giant tortoises and the elephant bird, are now extinct. Over the past 2,000 years Madagascar has lost many of its unique animal species, which is likely to be having knock-on effects on interdependent species that occur in the same habitats.

“The uplisting of Perrier’s baobab underscores the immense challenge facing communities and conservationists working to protect these majestic trees. More support for the work Madagasikara Voakajy and FFI do is necessary to ensure they are saved from extinction and protected for future generations. These incredible trees have been on Earth for millennia and we must not let them die out on our watch,” said Alicky Davey, Programme Manager, Plant Conservation at Fauna & Flora International.

Alicky says the threat facing many plant species is often underappreciated. “The plight of the baobabs is an all too common story for the world’s plants. One in five of the world’s plants are facing extinction and more often than not these plants are critical to ensuring healthy and productive ecosystems relied on by humans and wildlife.”