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Plant Blindness - Illegal Trade of Wildlife

Plant Blindness is the far too common human “inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.” Plant Blindness has many harmful consequences. It contributes to the underfunding and understaffing of and inattention to plants, compared to animals, throughout conservation programs and laws. These problems are ubiquitous in government and occur even in the environmental community.

Fortunately, Plant Blindness is receiving increased attention. The most recent example of this new focus is a January statement on the problem issued by the joint Plant Species Survival Commissions of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The statement was addressed to the government of the United Kingdom. The UK has excluded plants from an important grant program aimed at curbing illegal trade in wildlife. The statement explained that illegal trade in plants is both common and very harmful, including to the wildlife and habitats that the grant program is designed to protect.

The statement points out that although illegal trade in plants is often overlooked, it should not be. Some reasons include:

  • More than 365 CITES-listed plant species, across 39 families, are openly traded via Amazon and EBay. (CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.)
  • A recent IUCN assessment indicates that wildlife trade is the leading threat to 57% of all known cacti species (approx. 1,500)
  • Orchids comprise more than 70% of listed species under the CITES, with hundreds illegally traded as food, for horticulture and for use in medicines.
  • Ninety percent of ladies slipper orchids are threatened with extinction globally, largely due to unsustainable harvest for horticultural trade  
  • Two cycad species have already been classified as Extinct in the Wild due to illegal trade.

Read the statement from the Plant Species Survival Commissions of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Rare species are not the only plants threatened by illegal trade. Plant species can become targets of overharvesting almost on a whim. The Guardian recently reported that a fad for what they called “hipster plants” led to the illegal harvest of hundreds of Dudleya for export from northern California.

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