Rare, ancient flower nearing extinction

South Africa's ancient cycad plants may soon go extinct.

September 9, 2014

From the Guardian:

They are 340 million years old, outlived the dinosaurs and survived mass extinction in three global catastrophes. But cycads, the world’s oldest seed plants, are now under threat as never before from obsessive collectors.

In two separate incidents in August, thieves stole 24 cycads worth an estimated 700,000 rand (£40,000) from the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, South Africa. Twenty-two of them were on the critically endangered list.

Experts say the thefts point to a lucrative international trade run by organised criminal syndicates that links poachers, often poor and desperate, to wealthy private collectors who prize cycads like a rare stamp or first edition.

But compared to photogenic elephants and rhinos, the poaching of which attracts attention and resources, cycads are poor relations and little is known about the extent of the trafficking or who is fuelling it. Poachers act with impunity knowing they are very rarely caught. There are fears that, if current trends continue, these ancient, scientifically important plants could go extinct.

To read the full story, visit the Guardian's website.