Online Orchid Fever Raises Alarm in Southeast Asia

Malaysian researchers are exposing the illegal plant trade on social media. Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar have thousands of native orchid species, many sought out by collectors. There has always been an orchid trade, but online sellers have a wider reach than ever before. Sites like Facebook and eBay are too vast to monitor, and take little action to block illegal sales. This has led to a rapid decline in biodiversity, as plants are irresponsibly stripped from the wild and sold to ignorant or unscrupulous buyers.

To counter the trend, Malaysian orchid lovers have created a new book, Orchids of Penang Hill. Their goal is to inspire locals to protect the area. They’ve also applied for the Penang Hill nature park to be a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Across Southeast Asia, orchids are best protected in national or state parks. The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society has been working with Myanmar’s Forest Department to help save wild plants from the human malady of orchid fever.

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