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Stemming the Poaching Tide is a Major Challenge in South Africa

Conophytum, a genus of flowering plants that consists of over 100 species — including several listed as endangered — are the latest victims of a global wave of succulent poaching driven by surging demand from collectors and enthusiasts around the world, but especially in China and Korea, experts said. South Africa is home to around a third of all succulent species, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and experts say that this wave of poaching poses a severe threat to biodiversity. Once thought of in South Africa as plants for the poor, succulents have come into fashion internationally in recent years, valued for their quirky, sculptural forms and the relatively little maintenance they require. A search for #succulents now brings up over 12 million hits on Instagram. The Covid-19 pandemic has boosted an already buoyant houseplant industry, with garden centers reporting a sharp rise in indoor plant sales since lockdowns were first imposed in many countries in 2020. In case wild populations are wiped out, the South African National Biodiversity Institute is aiming to collect stock specimens of rare species to keep in cultivation.