Cactus

Rare cactus species face extinction

About one-third of the cactus species in the world are threatened with extinction: IUCN

Orignially posted at The Asian Age. Republished by SixDegrees on arrangement with author

The illegal trade of live plants and seeds for the horticultural industry as well as their unsustainable harvesting are the main threats to cacti, affecting 47 per cent of the threatened species

About one-third of the cactus species in the world are threatened with extinction, according to the first assessment report conducted on the species by International Union for Conservation of Nature, released on October 5. The report placed cacti higher than even birds and mammals in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The illegal trade of live plants and seeds for the horticultural industry and private collections, as well as their unsustainable harvesting are the main threats to cacti, affecting 47 per cent of the threatened species, stated the report.

“These findings are disturbing,” said Inger Andersen, director general, IUCN. “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, “ she said.

Ms Anderson also said that international efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade must be stepped up and implementation of the CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species should be strengthened to prevent further decline of this species. Cacti are widely used by people in the horticultural trade, as well as for food and for medicine.

Their fruit and highly nutritious stems are an important food source for rural communities. The nutritional value of one cactus stem of Opuntia ficus-indica — a “prickly pear” cactus popular in Mexico, where it is known as nopal — is often compared to that of a beef steak, and the roots of species such as Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus which is listed as near threatened, are used as anti-inflammatories.

They are also a source of food and water for many species including deer, woodrats, rabbits, coyotes, turkeys, quails, lizards and tortoises, all of which help with cactus seed dispersal in return. Cactus flowers provide nectar to hummingbirds and bats, as well as bees, moths and other insects, which, in turn, pollinate the plants.

Trade in cactus species occurs at national and international levels and is often illegal, with 86 per cent of threatened cacti used in horticulture taken from wild populations. European and Asian collectors are the biggest contributors to the illegal cactus trade. Specimens taken from the wild are particularly sought after due to their rarity. “The results of this assessment come as a shock to us,” said Barbara Goettsch, lead author of the study and Co-Chair of IUCN’s Cactus and Succulent Plant Specialist Group. “We did not expect cacti to be so highly threatened. Their loss could have far-reaching consequences for the diversity and ecology of arid lands and for local communities dependent on wild-harvested fruit and stems,” she said.

Ms Goettsch added that with the current human population growth, these plants cannot sustain such high levels of collection and habitat loss and thus there is a need for better and more sustainable management of cactus populations across countries.

Feature photo credit: Jenny Kaczorowski/Flickr photos/reproduced under an Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial



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