SANBI scientists discuss critically endangered cycads on international news

16 April 2015

Encephalators middleburgensis

SANBI scientists Phakamani Xaba and John Donaldson were recently interviewed about the critically endangered status of South African cycads on international news channel Al Jazeera.  They also discussed the thefts of cycads at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in August 2014.  

“The interview is part of our media campaign to raise awareness about the plight of South African cycads,” Xaba, a senior horticulturist at Kirstenbosch NBG, said adding that there had not been any solid leads regarding the thefts as yet. 

Seedlings available at Kirstenbosch Garden Fair 

“However, security has been drastically improved with the introduction of various interventions which include increased security patrols and monitoring, advanced sensors and microdot technology [tiny identification tags] on plants." 

Encephalartos friderici guilielmi (female)

The Garden is also working with cycad interest groups such as the Western Cape Cycads Society and an online platform, Cycadfriends to raise conservation concerns. 

“Moreover this weekend (18, 19 April) at the Kirstenbosch Plant Fair, we will have threatened cycad seedlings available for sale, including our flagship species, the critically endangered Encephalartos latifrons (Albany cycad).” 

Thefts common across the globe 

In August 2014, 24 cycads were stolen from the grounds of Kirstenbosch NBG. The stolen plants included 22 Albany cycads and two Grahamstown cycads (Encephalartos caffer). Both these species are indigenous to South Africa and occur in the Eastern Cape Province.


Encephalators middleburgensis

The plants were part of the Garden’s Cycad Living Collection. This was the first collection of plants to be established at 102-year-old Kirstenbosch containing many of the ±40 southern African cycad species. 

Cycad thefts are becoming more common across the globe as specific species are stolen to then be sold to private collectors. 

Barcode of Wildlife Project 

Members of the public who might have information regarding the theft of the plants are encouraged to get in touch with the Garden on 021 799 8899 or the police. 

SANBI is currently co-ordinating the Barcode of Wildlife Project (BWP), which is in the process of creating a DNA reference library of the world’s most threatened species, including cycads.

The project’s DNA reference library will allow for the accurate identification of threatened plant and animal species, and can be used by government agencies for border inspections and courtroom prosecutions. 

Watch the interview or visit SANBI's YouTube channel for more videos on interesting biodiversity-related topics.

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