A new shocking assessment of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that one third of the world’s cacti are in danger of becoming extinct.
Although cacti probably don’t match the popularity of rhinos, elephants or other species in the animal kingdom that are at on the list of endangered species, they are among the plant species that are facing the threat of extinction.
Should we care? We should. It is human activity once more, oftenly illegal, that is pushing cacti to the edge. These are a vital nourishment and water sources for wildlife roaming the desert. Hummingbirds, coyotes, bats and lizards are drawn to cacti to find the little water and nourishment they need. In return, they carry the seeds of the cacti to other places and thus an micro-ecosystem is kept alive.
However, the shocking IUCN report indicates that cacti, in all shapes and sizes are under threat due to the development of residential buildings, commercial buildings, due to land grabbing and land use change or even shrimp farming. In addition:
“the unscrupulous collection of live plants and seeds for horticultural trade and private ornamental collections, smallholder livestock ranching and smallholder annual agriculture”,
have further driven the pressure to unprecedented levels. Inger Andersen, the director general of the IUCN finds these revealing facts disturbing. She speaks on behalf of all when explaining the scale that trading with illegal wildlife has reached was never before so clearly outlined. This should catch the attention of the international community and urge for clearly defined actions to counter these effects.
According to the IUCN evaluation, three of the most threatened species are currently plants. Cacti hold the fifth spot on the red list. As they are known for storing water in their stem, cacti are highly resistant through extreme drought periods. It is then that their role as main water provider for the fauna in their habitat is most crucial. Some cacti grow to be 19 meters high. Yet, they are harvested from their habitat to be placed as decor in offices and homes, used in medicine or as food products.
The IUCN study leading to the report spanned five years and included over 1,500 species of cacti. The majority are found in the Americas. In Peru, the Echinopsis pampana, once widely spread, is now facing a 50 percent decrease in habitat. As a result, the cactus species has been declared endangered.
Other cacti are illegally harvested and transported to European and Asian markets. Here, one cactus of the Ariocarpus species can be sold for 1,000 dollars, according to Barbara Goettsch, who is the main author of the study.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia