Securing community input and support to address the challenges of the illegal succulent plant trade

Mar 29, 2023 | WFA News

South Africa has a rich and unique diversity of flora, particularly succulents, with almost half of the world’s estimated 10 000 species of succulent plants (4 337 species) found in our country.

The illegal trading of plants for ornamental purposes, has become a world-wide problem.  Since March 2019 South Africa has been experiencing a significant increase in incidences of illegal harvesting of succulents to support this trade. As of December 2022 over 414,000 illegally harvested plants have been confiscated and if the rate of poaching  continues, it is very likely that further species will become extinct  in the wild.

One of these genera of plants in danger are the Conophytums, many listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

During 2021, South Africa’s government conservation agencies and NGO partners drafted a National Response Strategy and Action Plan to address the illegal trade in South African succulent flora. On 11 March 2022 the plan was endorsed by Ministers and Members of Executive Councils for implementation within Government agencies and partners.

Through the financial support from IUCN Save Our Species and co-funded by the European Union,  Wilderness Foundation Africa, in collaboration with SANBI, BotSoc and CSA, developed a project based on the key actions identified in the National Response Strategy.  This project is currently being implemented to pilot emergency conservation interventions for succulent species in the Succulent Karoo Biome of South Africa.

This year-long project is looking to assist with the improvement of enforcement efforts, engagement with community members in developing response actions and the setting up of ex situ conservation collections for Conophytum succulent material to support future recovery efforts.

The project is progressing well with the following achieved to date:

  • First draft report completed of all available in situ technologies that could be piloted in remote location in the Succulent Karoo to improve the protection of wild populations of succulent plants.
  • Ex situ plant material collection underway.
  • 5 workshops completed with a total of 90 community representatives and other stakeholders in the focus area to develop a draft anti-poaching and communications strategy in response to succulent plant poaching.
  • A draft report has been completed summarizing illegal plant poaching trends and recommend processes that can support investigators conducting ongoing succulent plant poaching investigations in the Namaqualand region.
  • A first draft Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) have also been completed following an analysis of succulent plant poaching arrests and the flow of information within law enforcement agencies.

Through this project much tangible progress has been made already in the overall effort to act against the illegal trade of succulent plants. The series of workshops that were held with community members from key villages and towns in the area has resulted in improved awareness of the situation and secured positive local responses to resolve the issue. In addition, this project has brought together partners and stakeholders from the conservation agencies, NGOs and law enforcement structures in a more coordinated manner and progress with the range of support activities and an improved understanding of technology that can assist in the field has provided the necessary motivation to all role-players to effectively tackle this problem.

One of the most promising results of the project to date is the critical actions undertaken that will ensure extinctions of key threatened species are avoided and that reintroductions of populations of these species can be done to ensure long term (10-20 year) increases in the populations.

Community representatives at the Kamiesberg workshop doing group work in other to develop the communication strategy. Photo Credit: Malinda Gardiner

Community input gathered at a workshop held in the Kamiesberg to design a locally driven communication strategy, using the Participlan method. Photo credit: Malinda Gardiner

Community representatives in discussion on how best to address the succulent plant poaching issue. Photo Credit: Malinda Gardiner


This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union through IUCN Save our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Wilderness Foundation Africa and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN or the European Union.