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Unique South African cycads in dire straits


Cycads are astonishing living sculptures - the oldest living seed plants, which have survived three mass extinction events in the earth's history. Their ancient origin and endurance make cycads so special, providing clues about plant evolution and insights into a prehistoric world. They not only date back to the time of the dinosaurs, but individual plants can become hundreds of years old. This uniqueness and their monetary value make them sought-after as collector’s items.

South Africa is one of the world centres of cycad diversity with more than half the known African cycads occurring in the country. Cycads are now considered to be the most threatened taxonomic group of organisms, with many species now facing imminent extinction in the wild as a direct result to human activities.

Approximately half of Africa’s cycad species occur in South Africa. Of the 38 species occurring in South Africa, 29 (76%) are endemic to the country - meaning that South Africa is one of the global hot-spots for threatened cycads. In total, 78% of South Africa's cycads are threatened with extinction. 31% of South Africa’s cycads are classified as critically endangered, compared to the global average of 17%. Seven cycad species have fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild. In South Africa, cycads are declining at a steady pace, mostly due to habitat destruction and illegal collection or harvesting.

The Highveld and mountains of Mpumalanga are home to eight species, of which three are in dire straits and will soon face extinction unless drastic conservation measures are taken. The proposed National Management Strategy and Action Plan for cycads specifies measures that will address this threat. The plan includes: micro-chipping of wild cycads (most of Mpumalanga’s wild cycads are already micro-chipped), improved security and the introduction of new technology, such as the use of DNA and stable isotopes – which enables the accurate identification of the type, lineage and very precise geographical point of origin of any particular cycad(s), as well as the development of economic incentives for landowners/communities and, ultimately, the establishment a national gene bank to provide a gene-pool for conservation and future restoration. 
The public can contribute to cycad conservation in the following ways:

  • Become informed and ensure that our cycad heritage will be available for our children.
  • Ensure that any cycads in your garden are legal.
  • Never buy plants that originate in the wild (mostly big plants). Buying propagated plants is safest.
  • Become involved in cycad conservation. Join NGO’s that are involved in cycad conservation ie. Endangered Wildlife Trust, South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association, Cycad Society

 

For more information, visit the following websites: http://www.sahunters.co.za www.sanbi.org/  https://www.ewt.org.za/  www.cycad.org.