If you commit a crime against nature, the nature may punish not just you but the whole mankind. So, it’s extremely important that human judiciary system finds such crimes and prevents them, and if they happens, it should punish the criminals so hard that others won’t dare to commit the offense. The judiciary system of California and South Africa did the same for which they deserve congratulations.
A Hardcore Succulent Poacher
This story is of a succulent poacher named Byungsu Kim. Kim is a 46-year old South Korean national. He had pleaded guilty to smuggling more than 3,700 wild Dudleya plants from California state parks to South Korea. But the story is not about only one adventure of Kim. It’s a chain of cunning deeds of a hardcore criminal who’d surprise a common man and might be an eye-opener about how plants that are important for an ecosystem are being targeted by criminals who of course are insensitive about the loss they’re causing to the environment by their illegal acts. After California’s environmental cops caught Kim and his two assistants while stealing the above-mentioned Dudleya plants from the state parks, they also came to know about Kim’s numerous thefts committed in his more than 50 trips to the USA in which he had stolen more than 120,000 wild plants.
The story of Kim’s arrest (& later fleeing) started when the game wardens of California’s fish and wildlife department noticed that Kim, along with his two assistants, rented a minivan and was filling it with empty plastic bins, backpacks and boxes. The trio then started a two-day drive up the California coast. Wardens were after the trio for more than a week and were observing how they were stealthily navigating around state parks of the state’s remote northern coast and were filling the bins, boxes and backpacks in their van with Dudleya plants, an attractive and valued local succulent.
After collecting the specimens, the three men dropped them off their haul at the Secret Garden Nursery in Vista, California, and then again set out towards north for 2 days to steal more succulents in Mendocino, while communicating with handheld radios.
Kim, who used the alias “Neo” then smartly obtained documents to have the southern California nursery legally export 259 pounds of Dudleya which he claimed to have originated in San Diego.
The wardens waited when the three men transported dozens of plant boxes to an export facility in Compton and then when they prepared to drive away, the wardens made the arrests. The boxes the trio was aiming at exporting contained over 600 pounds of succulents, or 3,715 individual plants which were double what mentioned in the export documents. Its worth on the South Korean market was estimated by the wardens to be $600,000.
Kim and the other two men were charged with conspiracy and violation of a California law against removal of plant material from public land. When Kim learned about the charges, he fled. Since his passport had been confiscated, he visited the South Koren embassy in Los Angeles where he obtained a new passport telling a lie that he had lost his passport. Then he first crossed the border with Mexico on foot, & then flew to China and then to South Korea.
Another Arrest in South Africa
But 5 months later, he couldn’t resist the temptation of doing the same crime in South Africa where investigators caught him illegally harvesting over 2,000 rare conophytum succulents, which included one more than 250 years old and dozens of others more than a hundred years old.
Kim pleaded guilty to the charges in South Africa and had to pay a huge fine plus had to spend a year in South African prison, after which he was transferred to the USA in October 2020.
Why is Dudleya So Sought-after?
Firstly, it was inferred that having a Dudleya farinose plant from the wild bluffs of Mendocino, California, particularly the five-headed one, was a super-cool possession in Asia. However, when Jared Margulies, a political ecologist at the University of Alabama, investigated the Seoul market, he found that Dudleya were not on sale in the stores, where ‘hipsters and housewives’ bought the plants. On the contrary, Dudleya was supposed to be a finicky houseplant, likely to die soon, and hence a weird choice for the common buyer.
The fact is that, as found by Margulies, Dudleys were smuggled to South Korea not to cater the local demand, but due to its high-end greenhouses, where wild, rough dudleyas could be pampered and polished for a few years, growing bigger and more lush, and then sold for high prices on the international market.
Margulies further stated that several other plants smuggled to South Korea probably ended up being resold elsewhere to collectors in China, South Korea, Europe and the USA.
What is Kim Doing at Present?
Kim was previously sentenced to three years imprisonment which was later reduced to two years considering his one-year detainment in South Africa, an assault he suffered by another inmate which caused his jaw wired shut and a high reduction in the value of succulents he had smuggled i.e., from more than $600,000 to somewhere between $100,000 and $255,000. Also, he was transported to the custody of the Del Norte County sheriff, in Crescent City, a remote northern California town of around 6,000 people.
However, he’s currently facing two more cases in state court – one for his original thefts of succulents and the other for fleeing the country during the arrest.
While it’s observed that Dudleya smuggling has been dramatically reduced in California recently, there has been a new surge in South Africa in ‘floral matters’.
Experts suggest that one way to prevent pooching of rare plants is the cultivation of the sought-after plants as much as possible, and thus reducing their market value. Another suggestion by environmental activists is to continue to subject tough criminal punishments. What’s your opinion? As an initiative, will you start planting more and more coveted succulents in your garden and home?
Article Source: https://TheGuardian.com