Africa

Why are baobab trees in Southern Africa dying?

Updated 11:40 AM ET, Mon December 31, 2018
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A dying split baobab in Limpopo province, South Africa. Scientists, working independently, have identified potential dangers for both the youngest and oldest trees in its southern-most growing regions. CNN
Researchers found that nine of the oldest 13 baobab trees and five of the six biggest ones have partially or completely died in the past 12 years.
Pictured: About 1,000 women in the village of Muswodi Dipeni, in the northern province of Limpopo, earn a living by harvesting the furry, hard-shelled baobab fruit pods.
MARCO LONGARI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
"We 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," a 2018 report concluded.
Pictured: Fhatuwani Maguvha, a worker, looks on at the lab facility of the Eco Products lab headquarters in Louis Trichardt, in the Limpopo Province. The seeds and chalky powder inside the baobab fruit have been used in everything from flavored soda, ice cream and chocolate to gin and cosmetics.
MARCO LONGARI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
An icon of the African savannah. These trees represents the oldest living organism in Africa. Some have been around since before the time of the ancient Greeks. Sunland Big Baobab
An aerial view of a baobab tree in South Africa. The baobab tree, can live to be 3,000 years old, and can grow as wide as the length of a bus measuring a girth of 53 meters, and a height of 22 meters. CNN
The local Vhavenda or Venda people in South Africa call this mystical giant "the tree that roars", after the sound the wind creates when playing between the oddly shaped branches.
CNN
Pafuri baobab tree. Up to 2,000 years old stands inside Kruger Game Preserve, in South Africa. Courtesy Rachel Sussman
A baobab tree stands alone in South Africa. Cultural beliefs about the baobab tree are deeply rooted in African history. Still today, traditional healers and diviners communicate with their ancestors under its gnarled branches. It's believed that the tree's spirits will guide them in their decision-making.
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The "Avenue of the Baobabs" was designated as a protected zone in 2007 after a sugar factory flooded the area with water for several years and farmers started cultivating rice on the lands, causing ancestral baobab trees to rot and fall. The site was restored through conservation efforts. AFP/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
"Trees are like human beings. If you get cut, blood comes out. You have to stop it to preserve life. If you go and cut the bark of the tree, the same thing you do as you do to a person," says South African diviner Midana Tshiambwa. "After taking bark from the muvhuyu tree, we need to thank our ancestors, because it's our connection with the ancestors."

Pictured: South Africans light up a baobab tree by riding bikes in Durban.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The fruits of a baobab tree pictured in the village of Thiawe, in Senegal, where the baobab is called the Tree of Life. The fruit is nutritious, possibly having more vitamin C than oranges and exceeding the calcium content of cow's milk. Today local women are planting new seeds in South Africa to ensure the baobab's survival. GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images/file