Africa's oldest baobab trees are dying

In this file photo taken on October 26, 2010 Maasai people gather under a baobab tree at Oltukai, 100 km west of Arusha, Tanzania, during a political rally organised by the incumbent Monduli Member of Parliament. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2018
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Africa's oldest baobab trees are dying

PARIS: Some of Africa’s oldest and biggest baobab trees — a few dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks — have abruptly died, wholly or in part, in the past decade, researchers said Monday.
The trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years and some as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated.
“We report that nine of the 13 oldest... individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years,” they wrote in the scientific journal Nature Plants, describing “an event of an unprecedented magnitude.”
“It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages,” said the study’s co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania.
Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs.
While the cause of the die-off remains unclear, the researchers “suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular.”
Further research is needed, said the team from Romania, South Africa and the United States, “to support or refute this supposition.”
Between 2005 and 2017, the researchers probed and dated “practically all known very large and potentially old” African baobabs — more than 60 individuals in all.
Collating data on girth, height, wood volume, and age, they noted the “unexpected and intriguing fact” that most of the very oldest and biggest trees died during the study period.
All were in southern Africa — Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, and Zambia.
The baobab is the biggest and longest-living flowering tree, according to the research team. It is found naturally in Africa’s savannah region, and outside the continent in tropical areas to which it was introduced.
It is a strange-looking plant, with branches resembling gnarled roots reaching for the sky, giving it an upside-down look.
The iconic tree can live to be 3,000 years old, according to the website of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, a natural baobab habitat.

“One ancient hollow baobab tree in Zimbabwe is so large that up to 40 people can shelter inside its trunk,” says the park.
“Various baobabs have been used as a shop, a prison, a house, a storage barn, and a bus shelter.”
The tree serves as a massive store of water, and bears fruit that feeds animals and humans.
Its leaves are boiled and eaten as an accompaniment similar to spinach, or used to make traditional medicines, while the bark is pounded and woven into rope, baskets, cloth, and waterproof hats.
The purpose of the study was to learn how the trees get so enormous.
The researchers used radiocarbon dating to analyze samples taken from different parts of each tree’s trunk.
They found that the trunk of the baobab grows from not one but multiple core stems.
According to the Kruger Park, baobabs are “very difficult to kill.”
“They can be burnt, or stripped of their bark, and they will just form new bark and carry on growing,” it states.
“When they do die, they simply rot from the inside and suddenly collapse, leaving a heap of fibers.”
Of the ten trees listed by the study authors, four died completely, meaning all their multiple stems toppled and died together.
The others saw the death of one or several parts.
The oldest tree by far, of which all the stems collapsed in 2010/11, was the Panke tree in Zimbabwe, estimated to have existed for 2,500 years.
The biggest, dubbed Holboom, was from Namibia. It stood 30.2 meters (99 feet) tall and had a girth of 35.1 m.
Arguably the most famous baobab, called Chapman, was a declared a national monument in central Botswana, bearing the carved initials of explorer David Livingstone.
The tree named after South African hunter James Chapman, who visited it in 1852, saw all six its stems topple simultaneously on January 7, 2016 where it had stood for some 1,400 years.
Other than the oldest and biggest, the research team observed that many other mature baobabs had died.
The deaths were not caused by an epidemic, they wrote, with Patrut adding: “there were no signs of disease.”


Ronaldo bust swapped at Madeira airport

Updated 4 min 7 sec ago
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Ronaldo bust swapped at Madeira airport

LISBON: The controversial bronze bust of Cristiano Ronaldo at the airport on Madeira which bears his name has been replaced, Portuguese media reported on Monday.
“This bust is much better than the other one, that’s what everyone thinks,” Hugo Aveiro, brother of the five-time Ballon d’or, winner, told the Diario de Noticias da Madeira newspaper.
“A Spanish sculptor offered this new bust ... so good that we decided to change it,” he added.
The original was swapped Friday at the request of the Real Madrid superstar’s entourage, according to local media.
The original, by local artist Emanuel Santos, was unveiled 16 months ago at a ceremony to rename the airport after one of Madeira’s most famous sons, CR7 having been born in the capital Funchal.
But it was widely mocked, not least for its grimacing smile.
“The CR7 museum asked us to replace the bust in tribute to the athlete and we felt we ought to change it,” airport director Duarte Ferreira explained.
The Ronaldo museum opened in 2013 and a year later it unveiled a 3.40 meters (10 feet) statue which also caused some mirth owing to its figure-hugging shorts.
While his home island concentrates on his likenesses the real Ronaldo is busy at the World Cup. He notched a hat trick to earn a point against Spain a few hours after the airport bust was exchanged.