The carnivorous venus fly trap plant, Dionaea muscipula, is at risk for extinction in the wild due to poaching. The arrest of four men caught illegally collecting the plants on the Holly Shelter Game Land Preserve in North Carolina made headlines and history for being the first felonious charges for theft of venus fly traps from the wild. Venus fly trap poaching is a real issue which threatens the existence of the endangered plants growing in the wild. The men had 970 plants in their possession at the time of their arrest which accounts for about 3% of the world’s naturally growing population.
Venus fly traps are a popular nursery product globally, however, their natural range is extremely limited, constituting approximately 120 kilometers near Wilmington, N.C.. And even there, the plants are rarely found. Only native to bogs, most of the carnivorous plant’s habitat has been lost to development and degradation occurring over the past century. Fire suppression has not been successful for venus fly traps, while property is protected light-blocking understory species thrive, shading out this small plant that lives amongst the groundcover. Unfortunately, today little habitat remains for the venus fly trap, all of it owned by the Nature Conservancy, the state of North Carolina or the federal government.
While the Nature Conservancy has made progress over the past couple of decades to protect venus fly traps from fire suppression and development, poaching has remained just beyond their ken. Poachers have been known to make off with 1,000s of plants at a time and until last December were charged with a misdemeanor and asked to pay a $50 fine. The thieves would emerge from court smiling and set out to do it again…but that should begin to change now that as of December 1st poaching the plants is now a felony punishable by up to 39 months in jail. Debbie Crane, director of communications for The Nature Conservancy’s North Carolina chapter says “What makes poaching so sad and stupid is that the people who are doing it are local folks. They’re not making much money off of it. They’re selling the bulbs for maybe 25 cents. It’s an incredibly stupid thing that they’re going to wipe out this wonderful thing in nature.”
Even sadder is the fact that venus fly traps do incredibly well when grown in captivity, they love cloning, wild stock is completely unnecessary to feed market demand for plants. The ease of cultivation will help the plants from going extinct any time soon, but wild populations won’t survive more poaching events at this scale. Their eradication from natural habitats will deal a blow to an adored, iconic species as well as North Carolina’s tourism economy; people come from all around to find and view venus fly traps in the wild. The Nature Conservancy is launching a new educational campaign focused protecting the plants from further poaching.