According to new research, one third of all cacti species are now endangered. This puts the cacti above most types of animals in the endangered species list
The study was a collaborative effort from the universities of Exeter and Sheffield, along with the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). The study was published in this month’s Nature Plants journal, and focused on South America where cacti are most abundant. The researchers believe the main cause of decline in cacti species is due to illegal plant harvesting and seed trading, along with encroachment of farmland. Typically plants are overlooked in wildlife crime, with few people aware that the term “poaching” can even be applied to plants. Cacti are a prime example of poaching, with the illegal trade being very profitable as rare plants are sold for up to $1000 (£660) each.
The study found that plants that were once common are now becoming rare. For example, Echinopsis pampana, has suffered a 50% reduction in population in Peru in the last 15 years. This is important as plants are key in all food chains and the removal of a popular species is sure to have effects which will permeate up the food chain. Peru has begun to crackdown on illegal plant smuggling but the rest of South America is slow to follow. Typically, smuggling a cactus out of the country is not particularly difficult. This means that unless there is a specific and targeted crackdown, the smuggling will continue.
Even the IUCN had no idea as to the scale of the problem. “These findings are disturbing,” said Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “They confirm that the scale of the illegal wildlife trade – including trade in plants – is much greater than we had previously thought, and that wildlife trafficking concerns many more species than the charismatic rhinos and elephants which tend to receive global attention. We must urgently step up international efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and strengthen the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), if we want to prevent the further decline of these species.” CITES is basically a conservation group set to stop illegal trade in endangered species through improved regulations.
Based on the eyewitness account of a lecturer I had at university, CITES are a borderline corrupt organisation. That’s not to say they necessarily do a bad job, it’s just they are willing to give out wads of cash to people who make decisions that benefit them. It’s a bit of an ethical grey area when you start bribing people to do the right thing. There is some a link below which details a bit more about how CITES works along with rumoured corruption.
Regardless though, cacti loss is a serious issue and one that should be viewed as poaching and prevented in the same way. This will only happen though when people are made aware of what is happening and what the impacts will be if cacti are lost.