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Cacti on brink of EXTINCTION

Cacti are a popular choice to decorate windowsills and bathrooms, but the increasing demand for the prickly plant has brought many species to the brink of extinction.

Almost a third of the world' species are now under threat because of the devestating effects of poaching them to fulfil the demand for house plants.

31 per cent of species are at risk of becoming extinct, putting cacti among the most threatened groups of wildlife, more in danger than mammals and birds.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List assessment showed cacti are under increasing pressure from human activity, including agriculture, development and illegal collection and trade for horticulture.

More than half of the world's 1,480 species used by people, the report published in the journal Nature Plants found.

Unsustainable harvesting and illegal trade in plants and seeds for the horticultural industry and private collections is the biggest threat to cacti, affecting almost half (47%) of the species which were under threat.

Agriculture, residential developments, quarrying and even shrimp farming in the desert are among the threats to the plants, all but one of which are naturally found in arid regions of the New World, but which have been introduced to Africa, Australia and Europe.

IUCN director general Inger Anderson said: "These findings are disturbing.

"They confirm that the scale of the illegal wildlife trade - including trade in plants - is much greater than we had previously thought, and that wildlife trafficking concerns many more species than the charismatic rhinos and elephants which tend to receive global attention."

He said global efforts needed to be stepped up to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and strengthen international measures to prevent trade in endangered species.

Some 86 per cent of threatened cacti used in horticulture are taken from wild populations, which are particularly sought after due to their rarity.

European and Asian collectors are the biggest contributors to the illegal cactus trade, the experts said.

Barbara Goettsch, lead author of the study, said: "The results of this assessment come as a shock to us. We did not expect cacti to be so highly threatened and for illegal trade to be such an important driver of their decline.

"Their loss could have far-reaching consequences for the diversity and ecology of arid lands and for local communities dependent on wild-harvested fruit and stems."

Cacti are an important source of food and water for many species in arid areas, including deer, woodrats, rabbits, coyotes, turkeys, quails, lizards and tortoises, and are an important source of food and even medicine for rural communities.

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