[ENTREVISTA] Cacti seized in confiscation in Italy were housed in the first Cactaceae rescue center in Atacama

In Italy, in 2020, the seizure of the protected species of cacti was achieved, which were confiscated by the Italian police, mainly finding Copiapoa and Eriosyceñes cacti, native species of Atacama.

97% of the cacti could achieve their survival, being a positive figure for the institutions, some of them were in poor condition and did not prosper, these specimens were left for studies.

More than 800 cacti stolen from the Atacama Desert by an Italian citizen who was dedicated to collecting and trafficking them to Europe and Asian countries; such as China, Japan and Thailand. These plants native to America have aroused great interest on the black market because of their high value. A single specimen of cactus can cost between 400,000 and 3 million pesos, depending on its size and age. Why such a high amount? Because they are endemic species of the driest desert in the world.

This operation called “Atacama” was successful thanks to the management of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which is signed by 184 countries. CITES, is a convention that regulates the trade of endangered species, the objective is to provide protection through the regularization of these specimens, “it was a judicial investigation action and it was detected that these species were regulated by this convention.” , pointed out Guillermo Cisternas, CITES manager of the Atacama region CONAF.

The seized cacti are two species found in the northern zone, specifically in the Coquimbo, Atacama and Antofagasta region, “for a long time there had been a history of illegal trade and illegal extraction of the cacti species both from Chile and from Mexico, which are two important centers of these native cacti. In 2020 in Italy, the police began an investigation process and detected a cactus collector, who had an immeasurable large number of cacti and many of them were of illegal origin, several of which were from Chile,” he pointed out.

He added that “in fact, the Italian prosecutor’s office, through the Italian police, began this operation called Atacama, managing to seize these cacti, they were rescued and sent to a botanical center in Milan, initiating a process to keep them in good condition and thanks to this In the process we had information from an academic from the University of Concepción who gave us this information, from that moment we began to prepare ourselves”.

The seized species returned to Chile in 2021, coordination had to be carried out between public services for them to enter our country, due to the fact that there is a Phytosanitary Protection Law which means that vegetables cannot be brought into the country “we had to work accordingly hand in hand with the SAG, which is the authority that regulates the entry and exit of vegetables into the country and these species arrived in Chile, and suffered a kind of quarantine. Both personnel from the SAG, the forestry institute, academics, and CONAF, were monitoring that they had pests that would threaten the phytosanitary heritage of our country, so once this was achieved, the species were able to be transferred to this rescue center. The rescue center had the mission of adapting and rescuing the cacti, since some of them were in poor condition,” said Cisternas.

The illegal trade in this type of plants has increased over time, due to the interest of collectors in acquiring naturally developed species, since the characteristics they present when they grow inside nurseries are very different (their color and shape vary ).

[ENTREVISTA] Cacti seized in confiscation in Italy were housed in the first Cactaceae rescue center in Atacama