Bamboo, rats, and famine

Many species of bamboo flower and then die in synchronized cycles. These cycles have substantial ecological impacts, and in post cyclone Burma appear to be contributing to famine.  From the Guardian Cyclone, starvation – now plague of rats devastates Burmese villages

Four months after Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma, another natural disaster has struck the country. This time the ruling military regime has had 50 years to prepare for it, yet it has still proved unable and unwilling to respond.

The disaster, known in Burma as maudam, is caused by a cruel twist of nature. Once every 50 years or so the region’s bamboo flowers, producing a fruit. The fruit attracts hordes of rats, which feed on its seeds. Some believe the rich nutrients in the seeds cause the rodents to multiply quickly, creating an infestation. After devouring the seeds, the rats turn on the villagers’ crops, destroying rice and corn. In a country once known as the rice bowl of Asia, thousands of villagers are on the brink of starvation.

The last three cycles of flowering occurred in 1862, 1911 and 1958, and each time they were followed by a devastating famine. The current maudam is proving just as disastrous.

The same sequence of events – bamboo flowering, fruit, rats, and then famine – occurred earlier this year in the mountains of Bangladesh.

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