Georgia’s massive park of transplanted trees: paradise or eco-disaster?

Posted by Anita Froneman on 18 January 2022

A huge private park in the country of Georgia, bursting with trees and exotic animals, is the topic of much controversy. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the former prime minister, who is known for his love of trees, built the park. It opened in 2020.

The Shekvetili Dendrological Park houses 200 tree species from across the country, 58 bird species including flamingos and pelicans, and several exotic animals such as lemurs.

The spectacular fauna was all imported with great fanfare and no expense was spared in creating this lush wonderland, where entry is free to the public. That it is impressive, is no doubt true. But the park has raised the eyebrows of environmentalists, who say this extravagant attraction consisting of purely transplanted trees and imported animals is detrimental to the ecosystem.

Uprooting, transporting and replanting giant trees

To populate his new park, Ivanishvili’s team traversed Georgia and selected any and all plants, shrubs and even large, decades-old trees to which they took a fancy, and ordered them to be uprooted.

Moving them was no small feat; trees needed to be carefully loaded onto trucks or trailers and wheeled to a ferry. The journey continued across the Black Sea to reach the coastal city of Shekvetili. Once they arrived at the park, holes were dug with machinery and the trees were replanted by large teams of experts.

‘The biggest environmental issue here is the destruction of the topsoil and the landscape,’ Irakli Macharashvili, a conservationist of the environmental organisation Green Alternative, told Eurasianet. ‘The uprooting leaves behind environmental devastation, like massive holes in the ground and missing layers of soil.’

Other trees that were ‘in the way’ of excavating the selected tree wherever it was found, were allegedly simply cut down. In getting the trees to the park, roads were often blocked off for hours and even trains were halted to allow for safe passage.

‘The environment here [where a tree was excavated] will never recover to its previous state, irrespective of the actions implemented,’ Macharashvili added.

The excavation and transport of several metres-high trees were praised by some as a marvellous initiative by Bidzina Ivanishvili. Screenshot from video.

In addition, some allege the former leader, who still holds much political power, was allowed to bypass the required mitigation procedures when transplanting his trees. Park management denies this.

There are, of course, also the ethical questions around importing birds and animals for public display in captivity.

Shekvetili Dendrological Park is more than 60ha in size and the flora includes cypress, eucalyptus, magnolia, cedar, oak and maple, among others.

Take a virtual tour of the park below:

Pictures: Shekvetili Dendrological Park 

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