In demand: poaching of rare Karoo succulents soars during pandemic
Critically endangered conophytums have become highly sought after thanks to increased demand in East Asia
Abalone and rhino horns are no longer the most precious natural resource being smuggled out of SA. The price of rare Karoo succulents, often smaller than a thumbnail, is higher per weight than other illegal exports from SA and the poaching of these ornamental plants soared during the pandemic.
Many of the 100 species of conophytum, known as conos, are found only in the Northern and Western Cape. Some of them are critically endangered, yet they are disappearing into smuggling rings, as collectors in China and neighbouring countries drive up the demand.
“When you think of poaching, you think of rhino and elephants more than tiny plants,” said senior wildlife crime investigator and National Geographic reporter Dina Maron in an interview. “The conos are incredibly tiny, so small that brooms are used to sweep the land to find them...