Tea plantations provide us humans with the second most popular drink on the planet, but they are popular with other species of critters for different reasons. Tea plantations globally are host to 1,031 species of arthropods alone, not to mention the thousands of other insect, plant and animal species that have made themselves at home there. Tea plants aren’t harvested in their entirety and have to be nurtured to continue producing high quality tea, so the plantations are a source of continuous shelter and food, with soil that is well fertilised and cared for in areas that are often relatively nutrient poor.
When wild species begin to exploit the tea plantations and their many attractions too successfully we end up with pest species, a major problem for any agricultural crop. The problem of pest control becomes more complicated when you realise that the specific species affecting a crop changes depending on the time of year, current climate and age of the plantation itself. It’s all a bit of a headache, and it isn’t surprising that some farmers choose to use the pesticides which can rid them of the most pests with the fewest applications, a topic of much debate in recent years.
Tea plantations are teeming with life, and it doesn’t take a large shift in farming practice to make them even more so. There will always be species that are happy to put up with our “strange ways” in order to call the plantations home. They are fascinating habitats, but the study of their ecology is primarily carried out for commercial reasons, with the challenges of pest control as the main focus. Tea plantations have so much more to offer the enquiring mind. More and more tourists are visiting tea gardens and gaining an appreciation of these unique habitats. The lucky ones will have the chance to see some fantastic, yet dangerous if approached, wildlife.
In Africa, tea bushes are sometimes grazed by passing rhinos and elephants. In India, tigers can be seen crossing plantations as they make their way between areas of forest. In China, there are remote tea gardens that share their habitat with the rare and beautiful clouded leopard, and the sight of monkeys around the tea bushes has given rise to the urban myth of a variety of tea picked only by primates due to the precarious location of the trees.
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