April 27, 2021 – More than 1000 rare cacti seized from an Italian trafficker returned to Chile. The plants, which will be reintroduced into nature in the Atacama Desert where they were uprooted, would have brought in over a million euros on the clandestine market.
More than 1000 rare cacti, some belonging to endangered species of the Copiapoa genus, which grow endemic in the Atacama Desert, in the north of Chile. It is one of the driest deserts in the world with extreme environmental conditions and very specialized sparse vegetation. “Operation Atacama” is the name assigned to the nucleus of the CITES (Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) carabinieri in Ancona, responsible for this case of international trafficking of rare plants.
The value on the clandestine market to which they were destined, between Europe and Asia, was calculated at over one million euros. This is the seizure of plants for collectors of greatest value that has ever been recorded in our country. Thanks to a joint effort of the forest police, the Botanical Garden of the University of Milan, Italian cactaceae experts and the Association for Biodiversity and its Conservation of Bologna, the plants have found hospitality in the greenhouses of the Milanese botanical garden., have been classified and analyzed by the forensic botanist Marco Caccianiga, who was able to estimate with absolute certainty the wild origin of the confiscated plants. In some cases it was even possible to establish the exact location where they were collected in nature, thanks to sophisticated analyzes of the small soil samples that remained attached to the roots.
Finally, with the financial contribution of the IUCN (World Union for the Conservation of Nature) procured by the IUCN expert Barbara Goettsch of Cambridge (UK), the support of the Botanical Garden of Milan, and the indications of Pablo Guerrero, director of the doctorate in biological sciences, botanical area of the Faculty of Natural and Oceanographic Sciences of the University of Concepción in Chile, the cacti started from Linate. A video documents their new temporary accommodation in Santiago de Chile. Now they are in the hands of the Corporación Nacional Forestal de Chile (CONAF), an organization that deals with the protection of Chilean natural resources and the Agrícola y Ganadero Service (SAG), for quarantine. .
“We hope to hear about them soon in their desert – declared Andrea Cattabriga, president of the Association for Biodiversity and its Conservation of Bologna – testifying that the commitment of institutions, researchers, associations and individuals can lead to great conservation results. and enhancement of the natural and environmental heritage “. Cattabriga added: “And we hope that this case will remain as a deterrent. International collaboration can defeat at least one aspect of the clandestine market for plants and animals ”.