Climate change and collectors of rare plants are decimating succulents in South Africa, government researchers said Wednesday, warning hundreds of these hardy species are at risk of extinction.
According to South Africa’s National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), a government research body, succulents growing in the country’s semi-arid regions are experiencing unprecedented rates of decline after a rapid increase in global demand for collectible crops, fueled by Asia.
“For the past three years, plant material seized by law enforcement from plant dealers has increased by over 250 percent annually,” the institute said in a statement.
SANBI said more than 200 succulents — typically thick, fleshy plants that store water to survive dry weather conditions — have been placed on an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species that was updated last week.
Unique species growing in the Succulent Karoo – a region shared by South Africa and Namibia that includes some of the most biodiverse desert and semi-desert areas in the world – are particularly sought after, it said.
The plants are often sold on social media, she added.
“Most people who buy these plants don’t know they’re breaking the law,” said Craig Hilton-Taylor, who heads the IUCN Red Listing Unit.
“They’re completely ignorant or naive about the illegal plant trade… they’re just like, ‘Oh, that’s a nice thing to buy for my house or garden,'” he said.
Global warming is also contributing to the decline, the institute said.
The region has suffered from a prolonged, severe drought for the past decade.
This has affected many species in the region, including the endangered giant quiver tree. According to SANBI, the population will decrease by 90 percent by 2080.
“A combination of illegal harvesting, long-term climate change-related droughts, and ongoing land degradation as a result of overgrazing and livestock mining are leading to a devastating storm that is causing unprecedented biodiversity loss in the world’s richest desert ecosystem,” it said.
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