Globally, plant poaching is on the rise. COVID-related economic impacts on livelihoods has struck a blow to rural communities. Coupled with a greater access to social media and anonymity it has become easier than ever to sell illegally obtained plants.

One also has to consider the fact that COVID and being home bound resulted in a greater interest in the hobby of plant keeping and this has increased the demand for rare plants.

Confiscated poached succulents (Photo: Tony Carnie)

South Africa in particular has a HUGE problem with the poaching of succulents. This is worsened by the expansive nature of the geographic environment where these plants are situated. Some species are on the brink of extinction and are critically endangered due to poaching. When the Botanic Gardens Conservation International contacted the South African National Biodiversity Institute regarding this problem, they had this to say:

Poaching of South Africa’s succulent plants and caudiforme species has been escalating exponentially since March 2019 all facilitated through social media platforms and made worse by the COVID pandemic as the poaching has moved from international visitors doing the poaching themselves to these same buyers now soliciting from local South Africans. The sad part is that so many South African’s living in rural areas have no way to make an income and so now many individuals who have a phone and an Instagram or Facebook account are digging out plants and advertising them even if they do not have a buyer lined up. We have hundreds of thousands of plants being confiscated by our law enforcers on a monthly basis. SANBI’s botanical gardens are overflowing with confiscated material we have no place or facilities to house; just as an example 10 000 plants were received this last Friday.  Some species in the genus Conophytum have likely been poached to extinction this past January.

Houseplant popularity has risen so much that prices have increased by as much as 3000 percent. Recently, there have been disturbing reports and accusations that mainstream nurseries like Ecuagenera in Ecuador are purchasing illegally obtained plants from poachers. This is particularly the case with Anthurium papillilanium. Another aroid-rich country that battles with this problem is the Philippines.

What Can You Do?

  • When you suspect there is a potential illegal trade occurring on a social media platform, report the account.
  • Educate yourself on what plants are critically endangered and do not buy them.
  • Educate yourself on which areas battle with this issue.
  • Only buy from reputable sources.
  • If you can, donate financially to watch-dog and enforcing organisations and agencies.
  • Spread the word and educate other hobbyists.

As lovers of these plants, we have a duty to care whether or not we are engaging in and supporting illegal practices that lead to the demise of entire species. Greed is a main driver of this collection-driven obsession, and one has to keep it in check as it is our moral duty to leave these plants for the next generation to appreciate. Never mind the ecosystem damage it can do.