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The Beloved Baobab Tree Is the ‘Pride - Africa

Fat baobabs, some more than half a millennium old, have endured across Senegal, passed over for lumber largely because their wood is too brittle and spongy for use in furniture. Baobab leaves are mixed with couscous and eaten, the trees’ bark stripped to make rope, their fruit and seeds used for drinks and oils.

But baobabs, like many of the region’s trees, are in jeopardy, threatened by the same forces upending numerous facets of society — climate change, urbanization and population growth.

West Africa has lost much of the natural resources once tied so closely to its cultural identity. Poaching has stolen most of its wildlife; lions, giraffes and desert elephants are sorely endangered.

Huge swaths of forest are being razed to clear space for palm oil and cocoa plantations. Mangroves are being killed off by pollution. Even wispy acacias are hacked away for use in cooking fires to feed growing families.

A recent study said climate change might be blamed for the deaths of some of Africa’s oldest and biggest baobabs. In Senegal, local researchers estimate the nation has lost half its baobabs in the past 50 years to drought and development.

One of the biggest developments in the country is outside Dakar, where Senegal’s president is building an entirely new city, in the middle of a baobab forest. Officials have pledged to replant any trees they raze.

On the far edges of the development, construction workers were building new homes. The corpse of one baobab lay on the ground, a musty smell lingering at its exposed hollow interior. The smooth marks of an ax scarred its trunk.

In Senegal an image of a baobab is on the presidential seal. Baobabs are painted on the sides of buildings and on billboards. A fancy seaside hotel is named after them. So is a famous wrestler.

One baobab, which locals say is 850 years old with a 100-foot-circumference trunk, is a tourist attraction. You can sleep in a baobab tree house hotel or ride a zip-line course from baobab to baobab.

Senegal has few rivers and no mountains so baobabs sprout from the scrubby landscape as majestic way points. Throughout history, entire communities were constructed around these trees. Read the Full story - On top of the Page. 


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