Saturday, February 13, 2010

Problems you didn't know existed #36 - Cycad smuggling

Scientists at the University of Johannesburg have started a DNA barcoding project to stop the smuggling of endangered cycad species in the country.

"Cycads grow in hot and arid environments and they grow slowly. To get a long stem it might taken 400 to 800 years. As a result, their prices go through the roof,"

"In South Africa, some cycad colonies have virtually been wiped out by collectors seeking a sample," he said. "When a botanist a few years ago discovered a new species, Encephalartos cerinus, thieves plundered so many of the plants that they nearly wiped out the species within weeks of its discovery."

"Identification is nearly impossible when plants are stripped of their leaves for transport purposes, and it is therefore also important to identify species when only fragments from an individual specimen are available."

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