What we do

This programme co-ordinates research and surveys of animal and plant species that are in trade or are harvested from the wild, and the development of management tools to promote sustainable use. Projects are undertaken in collaboration with a number of partner organisations. Current projects include:

  • A study on the ecology and sustainable use of Euphorbia umfoloziensis and bupleurifolia.
  • Resource base estimation for Pachypodium succulentum and bispinosum populations.
  • The South African Leopard Monitoring Project.
  • Analyzing and monitoring the lion bone trade in South Africa.
  • The use of stable light isotopes to distinguish between captive-bred and wild-caught sungazers (Smaug giganteus).
  • The use of strontium isotopes as forensic support in cycad poaching investigations.
  • Piloting of nickel microdots for marking of wild cycads.
  • DNA verification of F2 generation breeding of African grey parrots.
  • Traditional use of vultures for magical purposes – changing behaviours.
  • Assessing the wildness of bontebok populations.
  • Assessing the sustainability of harvesting of meso-carnivores in South Africa.
  • Field surveys and habitat mapping for Encephalartos arenarius, dolomiticus, E. horridus and E. lebomboensis.
  • Development of a spatial biodiversity plan for medicinal plant species.

Zwelakhe wild cycad characteristics project

Where we work

The programme is active in all nine provinces of South Africa.

Reason for our programme

Part of SANBI’s mandate is to generate knowledge and disseminate information on the sustainable use of biological resources. A relatively large number of South African species are still traded from wild sources. The trade in species includes traditional medicinal use, as well as general medicinal use (e.g. hoodia, devil’s claw), trade for specialist collections (e.g. cycads, succulents, reptiles), and hunting and fishing. It is necessary to understand how these species respond to harvest from the wild as well as the dynamics that affect sustainable use of these species.

There are also regulatory requirements, such as the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), where information on species is needed. This work is being co-ordinated as part of SANBI’s commitments to the Scientific Authority.

What we have achieved

The SANBI IDentifyIt-Species and Cycad Apps were created to assist customs officials, law enforcement officers, border police and environmental management inspectors with the identification of South African TOPS- and CITES-listed species. In 2014 a ground-breaking study proved the forensic potential of stable isotope and radiocarbon dating techniques for tracing the wild origins of ex situ cycads (see Nature article). Genetic markers have been developed for Cape parrots and for wildebeest, the former to assist in regulating trade in Poicephalus robustus and the latter for the detection of black/blue wildebeest hybrids. A Biodiversity Management plan has been developed for the Critically Endangered and Endangered cycad species (download).

Field-based population and ecological studies have broadened our knowledge of traded species such as Aloe plicatilis, Aloe peglerae, Euphorbia colliculina, Euphorbia globosa, Euphorbia schoenlandii and Euphorbia susannae. Field research has also been conducted on the utilisation and management of TOPS- and CITES-listed medicinal plant species in Limpopo province, as well as on the illegal hunting of serval and oribi in KwaZulu-Natal. Surveys have been undertaken to determine the prevalence of TOPS-listed species in traditional medicine markets, and the traditional uses of the sungazer lizard have been documented.

A detailed analysis of southern Africa’s CITES wildlife trade over the period 2005-2014 (see report) was conducted in preparation for the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES, and the online trade in reptiles and succulents has been examined. The programme also supported regional Red List assessments of utilised and traded mammal species.

Who we are

The programme is co-ordinated by Michèle Pfab, the Scientific Co-ordinator of the Scientific Authority. Past and current partner organisations include the Universities of Cape Town, Florida, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West, Pretoria, Wisconsin-Madison and the Witwatersrand, Oxford University, the Tshwane University of Technology, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Panthera, TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa, and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.


For more information contact Michèle Pfab.

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