According to a recent report issued by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one third of cactus species worldwide may soon go extinct, and with them other species of animals from the desert, as well.
IUCN researchers explained that the plants help animals such as bats, turtles, lizards, coyotes and hummingbirds survive in the desert, while the animals help the plants reproduce by spreading their seeds.
In the desert, many wild animals rely on cacti for food and water, so extinction of the species may spell the doom for whole ecosystems. Researchers learned that the main causes cactus species are now dwindling are illegal or reckless human activities such as collection of live plants, illegal trading of plants and seeds, livestock ranching and more.
Inger Andersen, head of the IUCN, said that the news was ‘disturbing.’ Scientists knew that things were bad but they didn’t expect to be that bad.
“[The findings] confirm that the scale of the illegal wildlife trade – including the trade in plants – is much greater than we had previously thought,”
The team also noted that cacti were as trafficked as much as rhinos and elephants were. But people at least know about the dangers of trafficking the animals and do something about it. IUCN also revealed that five of the most endangered species in the world are plants.
Cacti can be extremely resilient in extreme temperatures since they can store water in their stems for months. The smallest species is half of inch high, while the largest species can reach 61 feet in height. About 50 percent of all cactus species are used by humans for ornamental purposes, as medicines, or food.
IUCN monitored 1,500 different species in Latin America and North America. Researchers found that some cacti are now 50 percent fewer. For instance, Peru’s Echinopsis pampana numbers dwindled because of illegal selling to buyers that wanted the plants for ornamentation. E. pampana is now protected under the law.
Barbara Goettsch, co-author of the study, said that the study’s results were ‘shocking’ since the team had no idea that the plants were so endangered and that the illegal trade had so much to do with it.
Smugglers dig up the plants and sell them to buyers from Europe or Asia for as much as $1,000 per specimen. But catching smugglers is not that easy because they can hide the small plants in their pockets and even socks.
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