The Cactus Patch
Volume 6       October 2003      Number 10

High On Hoodia?
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

On 1st Sept., "The Meggi Monitor" came out with an article stating, "A clandestine syndicate in Molepolole is ferrying out the highly sought after Hoodia plant to an American pharmaceutical giant." Since I know no Hoodia grows near Molepolole this puzzled me. Moffat Setshogo from the University thought it might be Opuntia ficus-indica. Polly remarked, "that doesn't look anything like Hoodia", but I pointed out that a picture of Pachypodium lealei on a poster of plants alleged (but not proven) to be in Botswana brought forth a specimen of Monadenium lugardii - totally different!

The mystery was solved on 5th Sept. when "The Botswana Guardian" came out with an article on "USA firm named in theft of Botswana herbs". They blamed Pfitzer [sic] agent Kenna Odirile for the loss of "Hoodia cactus". The picture, however, clearly showed the true cactus Trichocereus spachianus, a plant from Western Argentina which is a declared weed in South Africa! David Mmui, Acting Secretary of the Agricultural Resources Board came to see us on Monday 8th Sept., the same day the government paper "Daily News" came out with more cactus pictures under the title "Batswana export plant to America illegally".

Nonofo Mosesane with harvested Trichocereus at the royal cemetary at Molepolole

On Tuesday, a group of us went to Molepolole and Kanye and saw where the cactus had been cut. As we suspected, no Hoodia was involved. Near the royal cemetery at Molepolole there were piles of cut cacti which had not yet been sliced up and dried for shipping. I imagine the American Company, Ashley Industries will be surprised when cactus shipments arrive in Texas! The genus Trichocereus contains mescaline, as does Peyote (Lophophora williamsii) which is a hallucinogen. The consequences might be interesting if it were included in a weight loss pill.

Ashley Industries sent out a letter last May offering $50,000 per month for Hoodia. Although the picture on the letter is good, it, apparently, caused the present mistaken identity. Pfizer is not involved in Botswana as far as I know.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa isolated a compound they call P57 from Hoodia gordonii which is useful for slimming. The patent was leased to Phytopharm of England which in turn sold it to Pfizer in the U.S. (Pfizer withdrew from the patent last July.) The plant in Botswana is Hoodia currori and, so far, has not been used commercially.

On Sunday, 14th Sept., Botswana TV News showed an interview with my counterpart Nonofo Mosesane and the true story was finally aired. (I would have been there for the interview, but they said they would come at 11 a.m. on Thurs. the 11th but didn't show up until 4:30, by which time I was at the University finishing a talk on endangered species of Madagascar!)

I got my two cents worth in on Wed. 17th Sept. when I gave a talk at the Museum called "The Truth about Hoodia." I pointed out that although the present harvest was a joke, Botswana badly needs laws protecting Hoodia and other valuable plants. Moffat and I included Hoodia currori in the Red Data List we published last year and I included it on the list I gave to the Agricultural Resources Board over a year ago to be added to the Act which presently only lists the grapple thorn (Harpagophytum procumbens) on its regulations.

The "Gazette" came out the same day with an interview of Nanofo and myself on Hoodia. It was accompanied by photos of each of us in color. Botswana TV arrived at the end of my talk and taped an interview for their news. The "Daily News" on Friday had a front-page headline "Hoodia: Wild Goose Chase". "Wena", an environmental magazine sent a journalist to Molepolole with us. (The same one who interviewed me on Hoodia last year, but since the article was in Setswana, Iím not sure if I was quoted correctly.) We've finally been noticed.

It hasn't all been Hoodia. A skeleton was found when they dug a trench for sewage lines at the Botanic Garden. We have been waiting weeks for archaeology to come and dig it out. (We're not even sure if it's human. At first I thought it was too small, but then I realized how small a young, female San skeleton would be if such it is.)

We went to a local musical "Proud Nation "on the 28th August. It was good, but Polly and I were half the audience. They should have done just one night instead of three. In contrast, the concert of Oliver Mtukudzi on the 19th September was a sell-out. He is a leading singer, dancer, and guitar player of Zimbabwe (and wore us out just watching). One of his songs has been taken up as the "anthem of the opposition in Zimbabwe. Another, "What Shall We Do" appears frequently on TV here as an anti-AIDS message. Several times he had half the audience down on the aprons dancing.

We have also been watching Mars at its brightest. It has been quite impressive.

The weather has been really see-sawing here. We had one night just below freezing, followed by weeks of hot weather, and now another cold spell. We've even had some very early sprinkles of rain.

Spot the errors:

"Be careful", she warned him. "The amaryllis is also called a belladonna lily,

and belladonna is a poison."

-We'll Meet Again by Mary Higgins Clark, 2000, Pocket Books, London

"Ö pink was a good choice, because it was hard to get anything for decorations, and

she had half a bottle of cochineal, Crushed spiders, crushed spiders, his brothers had mocked, and she had driven them away, and he had stood there alone by the table, watching. It was wartime. Weeks of rationed sugar had gone into the icing."

-The Ice Age by Margaret Drabble, 1978, Penguin, Hammondsworth, U.K.

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