Letter from the Director

QBGF Trustees,

       The Gardens had 20 Encephalartos (rare African cycads) stolen last night from the plantings near the Larabee House. These were all large plants. Four of them were plants we received from USFWS as confiscated specimens placed at QBG as part of our involvement with plant rescue.

       Dave, Jason, Sergio and Robert Kopfstein have all helped with giving the report to the officers from the Sheriff's Department. Susi and Bruce Ironmonger have also been here and will help to get the word out to cycad nurseries and enthusiasts about the theft. A friend of Roberts will have the list of stolen plants up on cycad website today. Many of the plants are unique specimens and will be easy to identify eventhough they have been defoliated. We also have photos of most of them.

       I have also left messages for the newspapers. I would like to get the word out about the theft as soon as possible. It could help with recovering the plants but it also will be important to let any potential future perpetrators know that we will pursue prosecution to the fullest possible extent. I also believe we should offer a reward for information that would lead to an arrest. I have requested and have been told that the Sheriff's patrol will provide increased surveillance of our perimeter tonight (despite Superbowl) and for the next week. We know how and where the thieves exited with our plants and wish to make sure they do not return for what was left behind.

       While we have insurance that covers equipment and buildings we do not carry insurance on the collection. Not many botanical gardens do have this type of coverage because of the high premium associated with unique and often priceless living specimens. Most of the plants that were stolen have been donated to the QBG over the years. This means of acquisition needs to continue to be open to QBG and is hindered when possible donors cannot be confident that we have adequate security for specimens of high value.

       Cycads have been stolen from other botanical gardens in the past and it may be that significant thefts are on the rise. Just last year Fairchild Tropical BG, which has a collection far greater that what we have at QBG lost a large number of very rare cycads. I have not heard if they were successful in recovering any of those plants but intend on contacting them to learn more about what they have done to deter plant thefts.

       We will also organize a group to review what we can do to improve our capacity for security. There are many cycads that are in need of ex-situ conservation efforts and given our climate, QBG should play a role in conserving these plants. I do not think we should give up on working with them because of this theft or threat of theft. The extreme would be house and exhibit all of the high dollar value plants in a high security area. Imagine an eight foot fence with concertina wire on top and motion detector light beams surrounding the perimeter. It would be the antithesis of the environment that we are trying to provide for our guests but at the same time it would serve to let people know what some of the challenges are in conserving certain plants Cycads are not only stolen in botanical gardens but poaching is a major reason why so many are endangered in the wild. Given the prices these plants command in world trade there are some cycads who's continued existence is in fact threatened solely by poaching.  

       Staff and volunteers such as Robert who have worked very hard to see QBG develop the cycad collection and its care feel personally violated by this experience. It is very sad that our work can fall prey to such acts. However, we will learn from this experience and from others who face the same challenges. Security from theft is not the first thing that comes to mind when considering care of the collection but we clearly need to give it more attention and plan to do so.


Click here to see the list of stolen plants.

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