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Cactus bandits v Mexican villagers!

6 January 2008

No, really…

Roberto Aguilar reports in today’s El Universal (my translation):


JAUMAVE, Tamaulipas.— Several varieties of cacti, which are only found in the semi-desert high plains of Tamaulipas are being stolen by foreigners. In countries like Japan, people pay several thousand dollars for the cacti on the black market.

However, farmers in the region do not support a proposal from researchers at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas who have been studying the intensive cactus-robberies to create an ecological reserve for endangered cacti managed by the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources.

A farmers’ representative from the Jaumave muncipality, Argirmir Tudón, has complained that people from Germany, Japan, China, the United States and Canada have been taking large numbers of plants without obtaining permits.

They do it because they can sell these plants for thousands of dollars to foreign collectors, who find them attractive,” Tudón explained.

The most exploited cacti

According to Autonomous University of Tamaulipas researchers, the species of cacti found in the high plains include Turbinicarpus ysabelae, Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus, Obregonia denegrii, Turbinicarpus gautii, Ariocarpus trigonus, Mammillaria roseoalba, Leuchtenbergia principis y Ferocatus pilosus.

Several of the twenty species of cacti are found in the municipalities of Tula, Miquihuana, Bustamante and Jaumave, but nowhere else in the world. The researchers concluded that thirteen of these species are in danger of extinction,

One research project, headed by José Guadalupe Martínez Ávalos, has focused on five species of cacti in danger of extinction: Astrophytum asterias, Ariocarpus agavoides, Mammillaria carmenae, Turbinicarpus schmiedickeanus and Pelecyphora strobiliformis.

Point of Sale

Announcing the results of his research, Martínez indicated that the species in the most critial danger is Pelecyphora strobiliformis.

During a canvass of the countryside, we only found three individual small plants at any distance frm the others. This suggests that the species has become nearly extinct in Tamaulipas,” according to the final report.

And, the report goes on to say, “Based on comments by residents of La Perdida, it appears this species has been intensely collected by the same for sale to Japanese and German collectors. “

Residents of the several municipalities in the area interviewed by El UNIVERSAL all complained of the complacency of the Federal Prosescutor for Environmental Protection, when it came to foreigners stealing cacti.

They [the foreigners] come and take plants with no authority from anyone. I don’t know if the Federal Prosecutor isn’t interested, or just ignorant,” Dionisio Santos, of Jaumve said.

A paradox

Argimiro Tudón asserts that while foreigners and private individuals have been illegally taking flora, his ejito (communally owned farm) has been unable to receive permits to commercially grow cacti.

He explained that residents of the rural communities have decidied to set up nursuries for these plants, but cannot receive the permits needed for commercial operations from environmental agencies.

We would be able to raise and reproduce about eleven thousand cacti, but cannot sell them because federal inspectors from the natural resources secretariat prohibit it, arguing that we lack permission to exploit natural resources,” he said.

Until these cacti are commercially grown, what makes these cacti so attractive to collectors is their value on the black market.”

It’s ironic that just as Mexican agriculture is on the verge of collapse, small ejito farmers like Tudón are looking at viable alternatives — and ones that are environmentally responsible. However, the federal government, which until now has been unable to protect these endangered plants, can only suggest locking up the plants, rather than propagating them commercially (and incidentally driving down the price).

Another endangered cacti, Lophophora Williamsii, is endanged by competition for land use in both Texas and northern Mexico. However, Lophophora Williamsii — better known as peyote — also is vulnerable to damage wreaked by amateur collectors who value the plant… though not just for aesthetic reasons.

(P. strobiliformis photo of a specimen grown at the Huntington Library and Garden, San Marino, CA. from cactiguide.com)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. David Bodwell permalink
    7 January 2008 12:48 pm

    ejiDo, Richard, ejiDo!

  2. el_longhorn permalink
    8 January 2008 5:28 pm

    Sen. Shapleigh passed a bill regulating the harvest of cacti in Texas. We are having a similar problem.

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