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Poachers targeting rare California succulents

Posted at 6:11 PM, Jun 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-04 21:26:34-04

ENCINITAS, Calif. (KGTV) - Rare succulents grown along California's coastlines are under attack from poachers.

Last week three South Korean nationals were charged with attempting to illegally export to Asia more than $600,000 in live Dudleya succulent plants.

Federal authorities say the men pulled the plants out of the ground at remote state parks in Northern California and then brought them to a Vista nursery operated by one of the men.

"What your seeing now, which is really detrimental, is that people are actually making so much money off of this stuff in some cases, that they're going out to habitat and just wholesale taking everything, just wreaking havoc," said Tony Gurnoe, Director of Horticulture at San Diego Botanic Garden.

Part of the mission at San Diego Botanic Garden is to conserve rare and endangered plants and their ecosystems to preserve biodiversity.

"The natural world is under a lot of stress right now," says Ari Novy, President & CEO of San Diego Botanic Garden.

Novy says the rare California succulents are a coveted treasure in several Asian countries.

"Unfortunately in Asia there are a lot of really wonderful plant collectors, but there's a small minority that will go to any length to get plants they don't have, including imperiling plants in the wild and violating the law," said Novy.

Two of the defendants have since fled the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

If convicted on all counts, the defendants face up to 10 years in federal prison.

The stolen succulents are now being reestablished in their habitat by California Plant Rescue.