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SANBI and WWF join hands to tackle the illegal trade in succulents

Since the Covid lockdown in early 2020, there has been a marked increase in illegal harvesting of succulent plants across South Africa’s arid zone.

WWF South Africa, through the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust, has funded two positions within the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), to strengthen capacity in South Africa’s efforts to tackle the illegal trade in succulents.
Since the Covid lockdown in early 2020, there has been a marked increase in illegal harvesting of succulent plants across South Africa’s arid zone, in particular the Succulent Karoo biome which stretches from Namibia into the Western Cape.
A recent update to the IUCN Red List assessments revealed an unprecedented decline in several succulent species. With most succulents having small global ranges, the possibility of losing an entire species is great.
Consequently, a National Response Strategic and Action Plan (NRSAP) was formulated as a collaborative effort between government departments, conservation authorities, NGOs, and local communities to ensure the survival of succulents in South Africa.
This plan encompasses several high-level objectives relating to the succulent flora of the arid zone and sets out key actions required to successfully meet the objectives. Under each objective, key actions, sub-actions, lead agents, supporting role players, priority and timelines have been assigned. These objectives are to:

  • Ensure the long-term survival of representative populations;
  • Ensure the establishment of well-managed ex situ collections;
  • Capacitate the compliance and enforcement sector to enable more effective action against illegal collection and trade;
  • Ensure the policy and regulatory environment frameworks are streamlined to support improved compliance and enforcement, whilst also enhancing sustainable use and management;
  • Reduce pressure on wild populations by engaging local communities and facilitating diversification of livelihoods (where applicable);
  • Develop effective and consistent communication briefs about the impact of illegal plant collection and trade that fosters biodiversity positive attitudes and does not lead to unintended consequences; and
  • Explore options for the development of a formal economy that benefits the country and contributes to socio-economic development and conservation.

To assist with the implementation of the plan, WWF and SANBI, in their collaborative agreement, hired a coordinating team (Senior Scientific Coordinator and Scientific Coordinator) to work on the administrative and field work aspect of the project respectively. These positions are being funded through the Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust. The latest additions are Dr Carina Becker-du Toit in the position of Scientific Coordinator and Emily Kudze as the Senior Scientific Coordinator.
Dr Carina Becker-du Toit
Carina has always had a passion for arid environments, its plant life, and people. She grew up in Namibia and completed a diploma in Nature Conservation. In 2010, she relocated to George to complete her BTech and MSc, the latter which looked at restoration of Albany Thicket. Her PhD assessed restoration of old farmlands in Namaqualand, and she spent three years doing fieldwork there.
Carina has worked as a field guide in Namaqualand and the Swartland, provided ecological consulting services and has for the last three years been working as the conservation manager for the Rooiberg Breede River Conservancy, near Robertson. She worked with landowners on improving biodiversity management, running a nursery for restoration work and supporting CapeNature with stewardship work.
Her focus areas include assisting law enforcement with criminal cases, monitoring the plant populations in the wild and working with the landowners/communities, as well managing the confiscated plant stock that is in the botanical gardens.
Emily Kudze
Emily handles the administration and reporting that needs to be done in accordance with the NRSAP. She will be dealing with the different stakeholders and reporting back to DFFE, SANBI and WWF on progress made.
She completed her BSc in Conservation Biology from the University of Venda, a BSc Hons in Wildlife Management (Stable isotope analysis on Gerbils in the Free State Province) and has a MSc degree in Wildlife Management, awarded for a project that was investigating the distribution of bats in Ghana, from the University of Pretoria.
She spent a couple of months in the Succulent Karoo, Goegap Nature Reserve, assisting in the Bush Karoo Rat Project to understand how the Bush Karoo Rat has adapted to the extreme weather in the Succulent Karoo. During her time in the Succulent Karoo, she was exposed to  the Goegap nature reserve ‘s struggles with poaching.
Emily has worked on a variety of projects including finalising the African Biodiversity Challenge 2 Project funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation that saw her managing and organising two workshops, in Ghana and Rwanda respectively, and assisted in the publication of Rwanda’s first Spatial Biodiversity Assessment.
She has a passion for wildlife conservation, biodiversity, and sustainable development. Emily is looking forward to applying her extensive knowledge of conservation practices to protect both fauna and flora, mainstreaming biodiversity information products’ inclusion in policy and contributing to the achievement of sustainable development goals. Emily is grateful for the role she will play in tackling the illegal succulent trade and ready to help the team address any challenges
Both are grateful for SANBI and WWF for appointing them in these roles and especially to WWF for the funding. Hopefully with extra capable hands we can win the fight against the poaching of our succulents.

© Andrea Weiss/WWF South Africa
The crisis in illegal harvesting of succulents has seen thousands of plants confiscated.

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