The World Today for September 28, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

Move Over, Ivory

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa extradited a South Korean citizen to the US last year for trafficking in unlikely contraband: the fascinating, fleshy and sometimes flowery plants known as succulents. The criminal recently pled guilty to illegally harvesting $600,000 worth of Dudleya plants from state parks in California, according to the US Department of Justice.

As VICE News explained, the South Korean man, Byungsu Kim, escaped to Mexico when he discovered the feds were after him, traveled to China and then was arrested in South Africa after police caught him in another harvesting operation.

The case underscores how the illicit trade in succulents is an international problem, wrote Modern Farmer. The plants’ stalks are engorged because they fill with water, making them pretty houseplants that require little maintenance and irregular watering. Buying a succulent in a store or nursery likely won’t contribute to the problem, the Evening Standard, a London-based newspaper, wrote. But rare succulents are especially sought after in Asia. Many of those rare species are now endangered as a result.

Social media is driving the disaster. More than 3.5 billion people have viewed posts using the #PlantTikTok while Instagram users have posted 12.2 million images with the #succulents keyword, noted Business Insider.

In China, online influencers who showcase succulents have developed a massive following which fuels demand for the rare plants. “Hundreds of thousands of people are logging on daily to admire these vegetating celebrities, oohing as chattering hosts turn and twirl them around, showing off blushes of new color, entire centimeters of growth, or – what a treat! – some velvety new leaves,” the Washington Post reported.

South Africa, home to a third of all succulent species, is perhaps suffering more than most countries. Demand for the plants skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic when eager Asian buyers and others teamed up with impoverished South Africans who provide the GPS coordinates of succulent clusters to smugglers willing to risk arrest while digging up the plants, the New York Times reported.

Now the succulents in South Africa are in danger of disappearing, wrote the Guardian. The British newspaper cited a scientific study that estimated that 85 percent of Pearson’s aloe in the Richtersveld region has disappeared in the past five years due to poaching as well as climate change, especially drought.

Officials are trying to crack down on the trade. Last year, a South African court sentenced an American citizen to a suspended sentence of two years in jail and banned him from the country for seeking to traffic protected succulents, the Independent Online wrote.

Few smugglers appear to have gotten the message.

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