Succulents endangered due to climate change, human trafficking

Climate change and collectors of rare plants are wiping out succulents in South Africa, government researchers have said, warning that hundreds of these hard-to-reach species are endangered.

According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi), a government research body, succulents native to the country’s semi-arid regions are experiencing an unprecedented rate of decline following a rapid rise in global demand for collection plants from Asia.

“Over the past three years, plant material confiscated by law enforcement from plant dealers has increased by more than 250% annually,” Sunby said in a statement on Wednesday.

It says more than 200 succulents — usually thick, fleshy plants that retain water to survive dry weather — have been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list of endangered species, which was updated last week.

Unique species native to the Succulent Karoo, a region divided between South Africa and Namibia that includes Some of the world’s most biodiverse desert and semi-desert areas are in particular demand, the report said. He added that the plants are often sold on social media.

“People who buy these plants are mostly unaware that they are breaking the law,” said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red Lists Division.

“They are completely ignorant or naive about the illegal plant trade… They just think, ‘Oh, this is a good thing to buy for my house or my garden,’” he said.

According to the institute, global warming is also contributing to the decline. Over the past decade, the region has suffered from a long and severe drought. This has affected many species in the region, including the endangered giant quiver tree. The institute predicts that by 2080 its population will decline by 90%.

“The combination of illegal harvesting, prolonged climate change-related droughts, and ongoing land degradation from overgrazing and mining is creating a devastating storm causing unprecedented loss of biodiversity in the world’s richest desert ecosystem,” the statement said.