In Sri Lanka, home to nearly 6,000 elephants, the majestic mammals enjoy iconic status for their immense religious, cultural and social significance.
Listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List, the Sri Lankan subspecies of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) invokes both love and fear. As human-elephant conflicts continue unabated, driven by habitat loss and poaching — the twin causes that stress the elephant population here — a group of botanists has found a unique way to perpetuate the legacy of a legendary tusker killed for its ivory: by naming a new orchid species in its memory.
A paper in the March 25 edition of the journal Phytotaxa describes the new flower, found only in Sri Lanka, as Pteroceras dalaputtuwa, named after the Dala Puttuwa of Galgamuwa, a famed wild elephant with tusks so long that they entwined at the tips. The Dalaputtuwa orchid is the first flower ever named after an elephant.
“The orchid was an instrument to highlight our conservation needs,” said study co-author Pankaj Kumar, a botanist with the orchid conservation section of the Hong Kong-based Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) Corporation. He told Mongabay: “The new orchid is being treated as an instrument to raise awareness about conservation, be it about orchids or elephants.”