cactus pictures Interview: Cactus Conservation in Paraguay with Alex Arzberger

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Interview: Cactus Conservation in Paraguay with Alex Arzberger

Introduction: Alexander Arzberger was born in 1958 in Marktredwitz, Germany. He has collected cacti since childhood. At the age of eighteen, he immigrated to Paraguay with his parents and has made Asunción his home ever since. Having worked primarily in the management of farms and ranches has allowed him to travel to all parts of Paraguay and to become familiar with the many cactus habitats of the country. After many years of observing and studying cacti in the wild and in cultivation, he began to conduct research and publish scientific papers in various specialist publications.

Question: Why do cacti in Paraguay need conservation?

Most natural habitats are very limited places with special microclimates and therefore threatened by the expanding population.

Question: Are there many wildlife parks in Paraguay where cacti are protected?

There are some National Parks and other protected areas, theorically including cacti, but these areas are not controlled and therefore any protection is useless. There are no cacti-specialized protecting areas.

Question: Which species are most threatened in the wild and why?

Here is a list of the most endangered paraguayan cacti:
Discocactus hartmanii *
Echinopsis adolfofriedrichii
Echinopsis paraguayensis
Frailea alexanderi
Frailea cataphracta
Frailea concepcionensis
Frailea friedrichii
Frailea grahliana
Frailea ignacionensis
Frailea moseriana *
Frailea piltzii
Frailea schlinzkyana
Frailea ybatense *
Gymnocalycium fleischerianum
Gymnocalycium paraguayense *
Gymnocalycium mihanovichii
Gymnocalycium mihanovichii var. filadelfiense
Gymnocalycium megatae
Gymnocalycium stenopleurum
Lepismium cruciforme
Parodia linkii fa. *
Parodia ottonis var. paraguayensis
Parodia nigrispina *
Parodia schumanniana

The * marked specimens are probably extinct in the wild!

Most of the small, globular cacti as named in my list. The growing places are mostly being used for cattle raising and pasturing. The worst thing of this kind is the cultivation of non-native grass for the cattle. This grass completely covers the native vegetation and causes rotting of the small cacti.

Question: What kind of Laws does Paraguay have for the protection of cacti?

There are only general laws for the protection of the rain forest plants and animals without special provisions for smaller, rare plants. Although even these existing laws are not very respected by the country's population.

Question: Do you know of any new legislation (law-making) pending for the protection of wild areas?

I don't know if there are pending legislations for more prectected areas, but this is possible. Of course, any protected areas are useless if they are not controlled.

Question: What is the attitude of locals towards cactus protection?

Local people generally consider cacti to be weeds, trying to keep them off their plots. The general opinion is "cacti are good for nothing". In this manner, the biggest problem is that most habitats of rare cacti are on private land which makes it very difficult to convert such places into national parks.

Question: In the future, could protected cultivated plants be reintroduced to the wild is the habitat becomes protected?

This is my final goal and I think our organisation could someday also buy such habitat areas and manage to reintroduce the original vegetation under a strict protection.

Question: Are there many others in Paraguay who share your concerns for the protection of wild cacti?

There are very few people here who care about cacti and not many that collect them. There are a few organizations (ONGs) that are concerned about general protection of nature, including the native flora. For example: "SOS-Forest".

Question: How does the economy in Paraguay affect cacti populations?

Paraguay is an agricultural country. There are very few industries, but a lot of farms for the production of food. Paraguay exports many agricultural products which have a big economic importance.

Question: Do you see the conservation of Paraguayan cacti is a national or international issue?

It should be both. Perhaps the national protection could be activated by international influence.

Question: What can be done on the local level to protect these cacti?

For right now I see the only way for conservation as the production of cultivated specimens in large collections under natural conditions; under strict control for propagation (each specimen in isolated, non-hybrid propagation).

Question: What can be done internationally?

To support our project we need international donations.

Question: How can people donate to this cause?

We have a bank account in Paraguay, another in Austria and also a Paypal account for this purpose.

Question: What would the money be used for specifically?

The money would be used for travel, recollection, and cultivation expenses and in the future for buying the protection park and habitat areas.

Question: What do you think will happen to the cacti populations in 10 years if no conservation action is taken?

Even before 10 years most small cacti might disappear possibly including yet-to-be-discovered species. As you can see in my list, there are some already extinct populations!

Final Comments:

One example for our work in protecting cacti: The nearly extinct Discocactus hartmannii was pollenized in cultivation with great success and I now have many small seedlings from this rare specimen. Similarily, I'm trying this on Gymnocalycium paraguayense, but with no success yet.

For more information about Alex and his work in Paraguay, visit his website:

See also this related article: Conservation of rare cacti out of personal conviction

Interview by: Daiv Freeman
Index of Articles
Introductory and Naming
     Wherefore Art Thou Cactaceae?
     How to Write a Scientific Name Correctly
     Cacti & Succulent Identification
     Cereus Peruvianus -The Least and Best Known Cactus
     More About Cereus Peruvianus

Cultivation and How-To
     The Sun Burned Cacti
     Grafting on Pereskiopsis
     Making Your Own Cactus Soil
     Growing NON-Hardy Cacti in Cold Climates
     Tools of the Trade
     Growing Cactus with Artificial Light
     Making a Hypertufa Planter
     Cactus Flowers - Fake or Real?
     How-To-NOT Build a Cactus Terrarium
     Raising Cactus From Seed
     Growing Cacti in Terracotta

     Is Cultivation Conservation?
     Interview: Cactus Conservation in Paraguay with Alex Arzberger
     The Fate of the Minnesota Ball Cactus

     A Cactus Odyssey in Arizona
     Mangrove Cactus
     Have a Cup of Cactus
     Opuntia as an Invasive Species in Australia
     The Creating of "Springtime Succulence"
     Making Botanical Illustrations
     Adapt or Perish
     Chasing the Wild Epis
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