Daily Maverick (Johannesburg)

28 August 2014

South Africa: Welcome to the Age of Cycad Trafficking

analysis

The urge to collect extinct or near-extinct cycads is a particularly baffling one. What is it that drives the need to own something so ancient and rare that it has fuelled an epidemic of criminality, spurring harvesters to become more and more brazen? Twice this month thieves hit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town making off with 22 critically endangered species potentially worth millions..

To those who would possess them, rare and critically endangered cycads are the plant world's equivalent of the 1962 issue of the first Spiderman comic, owning the Gutenberg bible or finding the rare Penny Black stamp. In this world, whispering that you were the owner of the rarest plant in the world, the now extinct in the wild Encephalartos woodii (discovered in the Ngoye forest in 1895), would no doubt elicit covetous pangs of envy.

So precious is the Encephalartos woodii that it must now live out its natural life encased in a wire cage set above what is known as the Colonel's Bird Bath in a natural amphitheatre in the Edenesque grounds of the world famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.

The Encepharlartos species has changed little since the Jurassic...

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