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    Friday, 1 May 2020

    Prickly pear cactus on the verge of extinction

    Herbert Horuno Zengeya.


    MASVINGO – The prickly pear cactus, a plant revered by many communities in Zimbabwe for its medicinal properties is fast disappearing; it is on the road to extinction, plant experts have confirmed to The Mirror.
    Experts have called for the urgent categorization of the cactus (Dhorofiya in Shona), a thick leaved prickly plant as an endangered species in order to save it.
    Masvingo District Forestry Extension Officer, Edwin Machokoto said that the cactus is on the verge of extinction because of two main issues; an attack by an insect called cochineal bug and the Government’s failure to enlist it as an endangered species.
    Human activities have as a result encroached into the habitats of the plant.
    One member of the public who persistently complained against the disappearance of the cactus is prominent educationist and former head of Hellen McGhie Primary School, Herbert Horuno Zengeya. He said that it was astounding that Zimbabweans could allow such an important plant to face extinction.
    “We have always since we were kids lived with this plant in the villages and it has many properties that are good to mankind. It bears fruits and it has medicinal value and I am shocked that one can barely find the prickly cactus in the forests. It is such a lovely plant and you would find it at homesteads especially if the home is built in a rocky place.
    “I plead with Government to intervene and save this valuable plant,” said Zengeya.
    In the environs of Masvingo City the cactus was ubiquitous along the river banks of Mutirikwi River right up to the lake, some 25 kilometers away. Now all there is, is a grimly reminder in the form of dry and decaying cactus plants.
    Scientifically the plant is recognised for medicinal properties that address obesity and diabetes, high cholesterol, inflammation, hang over and as a vegetable with low calories.
    Machokoto said that the cochineal bug with cotton, waxy like mass sucks sap from the plants thereby killing it. The bug also shelters its female species and their eggs and the plant dies slowly as the bugs spread across its pads.
    “The cactus is an endangered species; Government and Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) should move to preserve it. It has many medicinal properties. Some communities tend to detest it because of its prickly nature,” said Machokoto.
    Deforestation as a result of illegal farming and firewood gathering by urbanites struggling with electricity bills have also immensely contributed to the demise of the cactus in Masvingo.
    Bushes across Mucheke Bridge which were ever green with cactus were turned into small fields, gardens and shrines by members of numerous indigenous churches.
     Aloe, Cactus and Succulent Society of Zimbabwe Chairman Hans Wolbert said cochineal bugs have affected the plant nationwide.
    He however, said that there is hope of pulling the plant out of the jaws of extinction.
    He said the remaining plants can be cured by any insecticide and will in the long run spread again.
    “The prickly pear cactus was considered an invasive weed but the cochineal bug has killed most of the plant across the country.
    “The bug can be killed by any insecticide and all affected plants can be uprooted and destroyed to prevent further infections and spread of the bug,” said Holbert.

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