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Wildlife Group Urges South African Authorities to do More to Protect Cycads

26/02/2011 09:58

"South Africa is a global hotspot for cycads, and 31 percent of the country’s species are classified as Critically Endangered, principally because of severe over-harvesting to supply private horticultural collections,” said Simon Stuart, Chair, International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Species Survival Commission.


According to Stuart, Cycads are among the oldest living seed plants, but are today among the most highly threatened groups of species. The comments of Stuart come on the heels of authorities in South Africa, putting a halt to the trade in 11 species of native cycad trees, a step which the IUCN's wildlife trade monitoring programme describes as inadequate.


“While the South African government is to be applauded for considering action against the illicit trade in cycads, TRAFFIC is concerned that the measures simply won’t stop the wild extinction of yet more cycad species,” said David Newton of TRAFFIC East and Southern Africa.


According to Newton, trade in artificially propagated plants from South Africa are still permitted, and despite existing regulations to restrict the trade, including new CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) regulations promulgated in 2010, the plunder of wild cycad populations has continued.


Several of the Cycad species, which are commonly known as bread palms or bread trees, are those in the genus Encephalartos. They are species listed in Appendix I of CITES. According to the CITES trade database, over 5,000 cycad plants (Encephalartos species) were reported as exportsfrom South Africa in 2009 alone. All were reported to be artificially propagated.


The European Union imposed a ban on trade in Cycad species from South Africa. Newton  said there are inconsistencies in the government’s proposals, such as "no requirement for Critically Endangered cycad species under a certain size to be microchipped, unlike less threatened species."


According to him, the proposed new rules would do little to improve regulation of the international trade in cycads. There is a need for a drastic and urgent measure to reduce the trade in Cycads, he argued. 


“The South African government should impose a complete ban on the export of cycads until the completion of non-detriments findings and the establishment of biodiversity management plans that will ensure their correct management by all stakeholders,” said Newton.



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