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Plant poachers threaten unique indigenous fauna

Cycads are becoming extinct in the wild.     ADAM HARROWER

Cycads are becoming extinct in the wild. ADAM HARROWER

Published Mar 10, 2019

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Cape Town - Plant poaching might not be in the headlines as much as rhino poaching, but there are still serious consequences for the environment.

South Africa’s unique flora has increasingly become a target for poachers.

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Plant poaching is a common phenomena. Professor Nox Makunga from Stellenbosch University said South Africa’s rich and unique biodiversity made easy pickings for poachers.

“Plant poaching can ultimately lead to extinction of rare botanical gems. The loss of plant biodiversity of rare endemics that require very specialised habitats cannot be recovered are some of the issues.

“South Africa has an incredible plant biodiversity with some species not found anywhere else in the world, making these especially desirable for poachers.

“Rare indigenous bulbous plants and some medicinal plants are poached formedicines local and global markets,” Makunga said.

South Africa’s ancient cycad plants are under threat due to poaching. The species is more than 300 million years old and is the oldest seed plant. They are illegally harvested and traded locally and internationally.

People who buy these plants include plant and garden enthusiasts and serious collectors. Hobby and serious collectors have been tempted to use illegal means to purchase rare plants such as cycads and other South African succulents.

Makunga said individual collectors were easier to catch than those who work in large syndicates and those involved with organised crime.

She added that South Africa’s succulents were also in danger of being poached because of their medicinal value.

“Other species of medicinal value such as Hoodia gordonii, became very attractive for poachers. Pelargonium sidoides was extensively collected in parts of the Eastern Cape leading to very low populations at some stage.

“There is also a likelihood that further development of the global interest in plants such as sceletium might also lead to more illicit wild collection,” Makunga explained.

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