The sight was depressing. We looked closely at the huge pile of dead cacti to see if any had survived, but none were found. Commercial collectors had dug up these hundreds of plants, but for some reason had simply left them behind to die. I had seen the destruction of cactus populations in other places, where whole hillsides of cacti had been removed and carried away, but nowhere nearly as many plants had been ruthlessly removed and left to die as in this remote area of the Chihuahuan Desert. Devastation of populations of cacti and succulents has occurrcd in many parts of the world, sometimes through greed and selfishness of people who wish to make money from the plants, but at other times as land is converted to agriculture, bulldozed for houses or highways, or flooded to create dams.
For 40 years I have travelled throughout the arid regions of both North and South America doing research on cacti. I have been fortunate to see some of the rarest cacti known, but have also witnessed their pillage by people who fail to understand their importance in the wild and who do not care if they are destroyed, thus depriving future generations of the experience of seeing them. The same things are happening in areas of Africa and Madagascar. Cacti and succulents face terrible threats as the human population grows and land is converted from its natural state. Scientists are struggling to learn what they can before some of these populations of plants disappear, but it is discouraging to see tagged plants removed from study sites by unscrupulous collectors, or a study area bulldozed to make a wider road. At times the frustration has been so great that one is led to wonder if conservation activities are worth the time and effort. But then one hears the statement that "if only people knew what was happening, then they might stop this needless destruction." Or we see a piece of countryside that has been set aside specifically to protect and preserve a population of rare plants. We may read a report that collectors have been arrested for illegally removing plants. These are what give us hope; perhaps we can inform and educate people of the importance of preserving cacti and succulents in the wild, and, as a result, species can be saved from extinction.
This Action Plan is a much-needed publication on cacti and succulents, for it brings together data that have never been compiled before, which should help greatly in conservation efforts of cacti and succulents throughout the world. Included is information on eight succulent families, as well as nine geographic regions of the world, plus conservation strategies including trade control. However, the most important part of the Action Plan is the section dealing with proposals for conservation actions. These are both timely and practical, for experts from various regions have described how conservation efforts can be carried out. It is hoped that these proposals will stimulate governments, foundations, other organisations and individuals to respond to this ever-increasing crisis concerning the conservation of cacti and succulents.
It has been my privilege to serve as Chair of the Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission for nearly ten years. The conception and writing of this Action Plan is clearly the most significant contribution of this Group. It has been a challenge developing this work, for the Group wanted the expertise of the world's authorities, who are often heavily committed to other projects. Those that responded with contributions have made this Action Plan unique and of considerable value. Their willingness to contribute chapters or sections is greatly appreciated. Special thanks go to Sara Oldfield, Secretary of the Group, for overseeing and compiling the material as it was submitted. The project would never have been possible without her efforts. Wendy Strahm and Robin Sears of the Species Survival Commission also deserve many thanks for seeing the Plan through to its final production.
As one looks at this Action Plan, I ask that it be read with deep appreciation, not only of the plants described, but also for the contributions of so many who work with them. Hopefully, this publication will facilitate conservation efforts on behalf of the cacti and succulents, a remarkable group of plants that must be preserved for eternity.
Dr. Edward F. Anderson
Chair, IUCN/SSC Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group
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