- San Diego Zoo
Orchid: Lady's Slipper Paphiopedilum micranthum
FAMILY: ORCHIDACEAE (Orchid Family)
Many orchids dwell in specialized natural niches so small that any disturbance of the habitat can mean the extinction of the species. The Paphiopedilum micranthum is one such orchid. Native to certain areas of the Chinese Himalayas, it was not even discovered until the 1980s. Once the nearby Chinese, Thai, and Burmese traders discovered that they could trek up the Himalayas into the China zone, uproot the brand-new species of lady's slipper orchids they'd find, come back down on the Thai and Burma side, and sell their finds to collectors who would pay huge prices, an immense orchid network came into existence and several of the newly discovered species became extinct in the wild.
The international community passed laws against trade in these orchids, and China made death the penalty for those who were caught smuggling them. This naturally put a damper on the trade, but it still continues underground. As long as peasants are willing to risk their lives to smuggle rare orchids, there are collectors willing to pay almost any price to buy them.