Global Cactus Traffickers Are Cleaning Out the Deserts

However, a number of experts believe that prohibition alone will not be enough to stop trafficking. Instead, they advocate for meeting demand through the ethical collection of wild plant seeds or cuttings that can be used in certified greenhouses for artificial propagation.

Illegal trade could be offset by the sale of these legally sourced plants. Experts recommend that the money raised go to the local communities that share the species’ range with the hope that this will spur residents to take action to safeguard it.

This “big business,” according to Dr. Margulies, “but the majority of that money is not centred in the countries from which these plants originate.” “I believe there should be more of a focus on social justice in this process.”

As a result of strict international trade laws and bureaucracy, many countries’ domestic legislation prohibits these kinds of activities. According to Mr. Cattabriga, “the result is a system that discourages reproduction of rare plants in captivity and has the side effect of exacerbating the illicit trade,” he said.

It is Dr. Guerrero’s hope that discussions about legislation reform will be sparked by Operation Atacama.

Plant enthusiasts are going to great lengths to change the cactus-collecting culture in the meantime. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, for example, is talking to Ms. Vayda at B. Willow about the possibility of setting standards for greenhouses to certify that they use legally sourced plants, similar to organic or fair-trade food labels. I must ask a grower right now, ‘Where do your plants originate?'” she said.

As part of its efforts to educate members about the dangers of poaching, the Cactus and Succulent Society of America offers educational lectures and publications. Specialty shows and competitions that members couldn’t legally acquire today were also outlawed by the society.

After receiving the ribbon, “you can’t tell members, ‘No, you can’t have this plant; you have to start from seed and in 200 years you can have it’,” Mr. Pavlat said. “We need to change people’s expectations and goals.”