Prickly cac­tus species ‘un­der threat’

Iran Daily - - Cultural Heritage & Environment -

The iconic cac­tus plant is veer­ing into trou­ble said re­searchers.

The most se­ri­ous prob­lem is il­le­gal smug­gling.

De­spite the in­ter­na­tional ban on un­con­trolled trade in cacti, polic­ing the smug­gling faces many prob­lems and semi-pro­fes­sional hun­ters con­tinue to up­root plants to or­der, steal­ing from Na­tional Parks, In­dian Reser­va­tions and more sig­nif­i­cantly from the wild, BBC wrote.

In south­ern Spain, the plants are be­ing dev­as­tated by the cochineal bee­tle. But the pic­ture there is mir­rored across other re­gions of the world.

As An­ton Brug­ger strides pur­pose­fully around his plan­ta­tion set on the side of a steep hill in Alme­ria, south­ern Spain, he casts his gaze over the more than 10,000 cacti art­fully ar­ranged in ter­races over two hectares.

“When vis­i­tors come here and see the re­ally huge cacti such as Mada­gas­car’s Al­lu­au­dia pro­cera, which grows to about 10 meters (33 feet), they are in­spired to buy small ver­sions in the nurs­ery,” ex­plained the Aus­trian cac­tus afi­cionado.

“We tell them about the plight of the cac­tus in many parts of the world and they are as­ton­ished.”

Their as­ton­ish­ment stems from the per­ceived hardy na­ture of the cac­tus able to with­stand heat, drought and poor soil. But the Ibe­rian Penin­sula’s em­blem­atic prickly pear is ab­sent from Brug­ger’s nurs­ery.

The plant that typ­i­fies the tra­di­tional Span­ish land­scape is nowhere to be seen in An­dalu­cia, dev­as­tated, Brug­ger said, by a pest — the cochineal bee­tle.

Although cacti are na­tive to the Amer­i­cas (apart from one species that also grows in Sri Lanka, and parts of Africa from the Ivory Coast to Ethiopia) new plants can be grown from off­shoots.

So while the lo­cal­ized loss of this species does not spell the end of this iconic cac­tus species, it is part of a more wor­ry­ing trend, ac­cord­ing to South African­born Paul Rees, who is in charge of the trop­i­cal nurs­ery at the Royal Botan­i­cal Gar­dens, Kew.

He said many of the ap­prox­i­mately 2,000 iden­ti­fied Cac­taceae species have a very re­stricted range which make them vul­ner­a­ble.

“Cac­taceae are con­sid­ered one of the most threat­ened plant groups in the world,” he ex­plained.

“Over 30 per­cent are con­sid­ered crit­i­cally en­dan­gered or vul­ner­a­ble,” he added.

To put this in per­spec­tive ap­prox­i­mately 25 per­cent of mam­mals are en­dan­gered. But with ris­ing tem­per­a­tures cacti are forced to with­stand ever longer pe­ri­ods of drought. “Cacti are be­ing sub­jected to ever hot­ter weather. Some species can han­dle longer pe­ri­ods of drought and higher tem­per­a­tures bet­ter than oth­ers,” he con­tin­ued. “And the drier habi­tats be­come and the less wa­ter there is avail­able, the harder it be­comes for plants, which are al­ready sur­viv­ing in ex­treme con­di­tions, to sur­vive.” The IUCN, In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture, has cat­e­go­rized Cacti as be­long­ing to two groups. Th­ese are listed in the two Ap­pen­dices to the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), with the most threat­ened ap­pear­ing in Ap­pendix I. How­ever hun­ters con­tinue to seek them out, es­pe­cially in wild set­tings. Ac­cord­ing to wildlife con­ser­va­tion­ists in the US, cacti are be­ing dug up at an ever ac­cel­er­at­ing rate for zeal­ous col­lec­tors look­ing for niche species. Cacti now rank just be­low drugs and guns as the most pop­u­lar goods smug­gled out of Mex­ico, ac­cord­ing to con­ser­va­tion­ists. Alex Monro, who is the re­search leader in the Amer­ica’s team at Kew, said that with teams work­ing with the Royal Botanic Gar­den in re­mote ar­eas and iden­ti­fy­ing new cac­tus species are very cau­tious not to re­veal the the ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion of newly iden­ti­fied cacti species. “If we have ma­te­rial only known from a par­tic­u­lar lo­cal­ity we know that there will be in­ter­est in that species from col­lec­tors,” he said. “If you look on our web­site you’ll see that for those cacti you won’t get any ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion as to where those spec­i­mens have come from.”


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