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 *
Frailea moseriana *
Frailea ybatense *
Gymnocalycium paraguayense *
Gymnocalycium mihanovichii var. filadelfiense
Parodia linkii fa. *
Parodia ottonis var. paraguayensis
Parodia nigrispina *
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!
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: alexanderarzberger.com/
See also this related article: Conservation of rare cacti out of personal conviction
Interview by: Daiv Freeman