The "sex tree" (i.e. Citropsis articulata) — a skinny bush whose roots are purported to cure impotence — is facing an increasingly bleak future as poachers in Uganda's Mabira Forest Reserve rush to harvest it in ever larger numbers. Other tree species, including the medicinal Prunus africana — which is used to treat malaria and certain forms of cancer — is rapidly approaching extinction as well.
"The [sex] tree may have other medicinal values apart from treating sexual impotence, and we are losing out if we let these plants go extinct without doing more research. The people say that the medicines work," said Mauda Kamatenesi, a botanist at Makarere University, who argued that the loss of these species would do irrevocable damage to the rain forest and local Ugandans — who've been using them as herbal cures for many years. A larger threat to the plants' future well-being, however, may be the Ugandan government's plan to convert over a quarter of the rain forest into a sugarcane plantation. Despite strong opposition from lawmakers, Mabira residents and the country's National Forest Authority (NFA), the government — led by President Yoweri Museveni — has vowed to move ahead with its plan to clear 17,000 acres of forest, claiming that the number of jobs the sugar plantation would create would outweigh other losses. A study conducted by the NFA found that the ecological and economic losses incurred by the Mabira clearing would be severe: endangering nine species endemic to the rain forest and threatening potential logging and eco-tourism revenue.
Recent efforts by Mabira tourism officials have focused on teaching local Ugandans the art of sustainable forest use. Though its effect has been measured, it has already helped convince many residents to stop uprooting vulnerable plant species like the "sex tree." You'd think that countries that make the popular drug Viagra so profitable would be taking an active interest in its preservation...
See also: ::Inveneo: Solar and Pedal-Powered Phones for Uganda, ::Butterfly Back from the Brink of Extinction, ::One in Six European Mammals Faces Extinction
Image courtesy of WorldIslandInfo.com via flickr