Bankouale Palm Expedition 2007
Henry Ford and Gavin Conochie  
  Funding International Palm Society
  Sponsorship Djibouti Palace Kempinsky Hotel  

The objectives of the expedition to Bankouale, Djibouti were twofold: to collect sufficient seed from the Bankouale Palm for conservation purposes for the Millennium Seed Bank, and for six botanical gardens around the world, and to establish the knowledge base of the villagers concerning the palm and its conservation.

Seed Collection:
Seed from seven populations of the Palm was collected between July 26 and August 4 2007. ( Bankouale Wadi Side, Bankouale Wadi, Bankouale Cascade, Satabou, Disay, Agorogouba, Ribtaleh: see the website for the site details). All the populations were from the Bankouale valley. Genetic analysis has shown that there is no differentiation between the populations in the three valleys of Randa, Bankouale and Ditilou (Shapcott and Ford, in press) and these populations were of relatively easy access, given the terrain and temperature.

Seed was still on the trees, but most had fallen before we started to collect. It was eaten by two birds, that we saw, a pigeon and a bulbul. Other birds were said to eat it, but were not observed. The pigeon ingests the seed whole, and ejects them completely clean. The bulbul does not swallow the seed, but pecks as much of the outer casing as possible then drops the seed. Goats eat the seed once it has fallen on the ground, and have a liking for the seed but much escapes them once the seed is hidden in the gravel. At one site, Ribtaleh, Baboons had eaten much of the seed, identified by the split husks of the consumed seed.

In total 4.5 kilos of seed were collected.

Distribution in Djibouti: Seed samples for trial germination and establishment in Djibouti were given to Bertrand LaFrance, the Ministry of the Environment, the Botanical Garden, , Djibouti Nature, and the Djibouti Palace Kempinski Hotel.

The remainder of the seed will be distributed to the Millenium Seed Bank, and 6 Botanic Gardens round the world.

Prospects for Conservation.

For the purposes of conservation in situ it is important to establish the relationship of the locals to the plant. In the course of many conversations we were pleased to discover that the plant is firmly established in the minds of the locals as an integral part of the landscape and a beautiful plant. Its uses are limited, as though it is resistant to termites, it forms no part of the architectural heritage of the Afars, who are primarily an nomadic people and have only recently been constructing rondavels after the influence of Ethiopian immigrants in the 1970's. The leaves are occasionally cut for roofing purposes.

At Bankouale, the Tourist Camp owners before the civil war (1990-92) told us that they were concerned at the loss of the palms and thought of growing trees and protecting them, but the war destroyed the Tourist industry for 10 years. The current tourist camp owner has already set aside a site in a side wadi to grow some palm trees.

We had a meeting with the Ardo Village Elders to discuss their thoughts and plans for their valley. On our first expedition in 2004 we met with a visiting French hydro-engineer who had been inspired by a previous visit to Bankouale to win a grant to plan the protection of Ardo and the Palm trees in the wadi at Bankouale from the winter floods. The southern bank of the wadi where the village is situated has been eroding for many years, and the original Cooperative building is no longer used, and some villagers had contemplated moving. The palm trees are in the middle of the wadi and are exposed each winter to the full force of the torrent. However, the completed report could not be found last march and we were concerned that the work had been lost. This year we found the villagers were proud of their work based on the engineers report. Together with the French army they had placed a substantial gabion at the upstream end of the village which should direct the water away from the village.

Elsewhere the palm trees are found at spring sites which are now associated with recently developed gardens, used for vegetables, citrus, mangoes etc. The earliest of these gardens was made 35 years ago, most have been made in the last 20 years. These gardens often have young palm trees growing along the water courses.

Our meeting with the elders included the Regional Chief, the Village Chief, the Imam, a representatives from the Ardo Cooperative, and the Association des Jeunes. Breifly our discussion was formal, but extremely useful. They outlined their thoughts and plans for the Palm tree and its conservation, which agreed with our own concepts. We informed them of the rarity of the palm tree, and the concern of a number of people for its conservation, and we agreed to keep in touch and plan for the future.

In outline these are the points made.

Conservation in the Gardens

1. Protected from grazing
2.Water availability
3.They are already growing well here

1.Competition for water
2.Competition for space in the rosette-juvenile stages

Present Status
1.Gardner at Disay already growing 3 palms in soil filled plastic bag
2.Other garden owners are similarly growing palms (hearsay)
3.Nur has offered his garden as a site.
4.Houmet has offerd a fenced side wadi as a site
5.Many gardens (around 10) already have young plants growing in the irrigation channels.

Future Difficulties
1.Contacting garden owners
2.Compensation for crop losses
3.Protection of gardens from winter torrents – palms could be part of this as they are very strong.

Conservation in the Wadi
The Village elders preferred the concept of protecting those palm trees established in the wadi after rain from torrents and from grazing. This would involve the identification of sites, the construction of gabions and the erection of goat proof fences.. Gabions have already been constructed at Ardo and and the Bankouale cascade.


We are putting together a Darwin Initiative proposal for the conservation of the whole area, the Foret du Dai ( juniper cloud forest ) and the Ditilou, Bankouale and Randah Valleys as these form a threatened landscape with several endemic plants as well as the Bankouale Palm, the endangered Djibouti Francolin, and Leopard. We will apply for grants from the appropriate Societies for this project.


1: We have collected 4 kilos of seed for distribution to Botanic Gardens and to the Millenium Seed Bank.

2: We have made contact with the politicians in the Bankouale valley and established their recognition of the palm as a valuable asset in the landscape, their wish to preserve it, and the extent of their actions already undertaken to put this into effect.

3: We are in the process of submitting a proposal to the Darwin Initiative which will include the conservation of the Bankouale Palm as part of a wider project for the conservation of the Foret du Dai and its environs.


Love the hat

colecting with Nur

collecting team

Palm Growing in the Gardens