The Wild Cycad Conservancy


South Africa’s cycad species are protected from extinction and, wherever possible, populations thrive in the wild as part of South Africa’s rich biodiversity heritage.

The WCCs mission is to secure the future of all endemic cycad species in South Africa. This is being done by working together with government agencies, landowners and other stakeholders to establish and secure additional safe sites for wild populations of the most threatened species, procure and maintain representative genetic material in living collections, and lead research and actions linked to conservation and population recovery.



ABOUT THE wild cycad conservation

WCC was founded in 2019 as a non-profit company and public benefit organisation with the express aim of supporting conservation and recovery actions for cycads in South Africa. The objectives of WCC align closely to the Cycads 2050 strategy developed by the IUCN SSC Cycad Specialist Group and are designed to support the further development and implementation of biodiversity management plans for cycads. WCC aims to be a catalyst for cycad conservation in South Africa by harnessing the expertise of local and international experts and sourcing funding to support cycad conservation initiatives. The experts involved with WCC have global experience in the ecology and biology of cycads and the challenges they face — this pool of experience, accumulated across diverse habitats in multiple countries will be channelled through WCC to protect the unique South African species from an otherwise inevitable extinction.

Meet the team

Chief Executive Officer

Wynand van Eeden – 

Wynand is an electrical engineer with 32 years international experience in design, management and product development. He has a longstanding interest in cycads, having first attended the International Conference on Cycad Biology in 2002 and later taking on the role of organiser for the 2018 conference held in South Africa. He was invited to join the IUCN/SSC Cycad Specialist Group in 2018 and is a member of the Conservation sub-committee.

Chief Financial Officer

André Venter – 

André is a keen conservationist and takes part in CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) excursions to record and observe plants in the Fynbos of the Western Cape. He is passionate about Renosterveld conservation and is involved with a project to protect Swartland Renosterveld species in urban parks and green belts, where remnants and small patches of Renosterveld still exists. As a chartered accountant with corporate experience, André helps with the financial management of WCC.

Additional Director

– Ben Truter –  

Ben is a clinical psychologist, specialising in Autism Spectrum Neurodiversity.  He is currently working towards a doctorate at the Gothenburg University, Sweden. He is a keen amateur botanist with a love for plants. Aloes are a favourite and he maintains a library of publications and books on aloes.

Chief Scientist

– Prof. John Donaldson PhD –  

John is a conservation biologist and ecologist who has been involved in cycad research and conservation for more than 30 years. John obtained a PhD from University of Cape Town in 1991 where his thesis examined the evolution of cycad insect interactions. He has served as Chair/Co-Chair of the IUCN/SSC Cycad Specialist Group since 1996 and developed the first global Cycad Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (2003). He has led research teams focusing on cycad Red Lists, pollination ecology and restoration and still has active research project in these areas. John also serves on the IUCN/SSC Plants Committee, is a member of the Scientific & Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and has been co-chair of the IPBES assessment for the Sustainable Use of Wild Species since 2018.

WCC Advisory Board

Prof. Cristina Lopez-Gallego PhD

Cristina is a Professor at University of Antioquia in Colombia. Her main research interests are in evolutionary ecology and species conservation biology, and she has been studying Zamia ecology for more than 25 years. She is the President of the Colombian Cycad Society, a conservation NGO dedicated to implement the Conservation Action Plan for the Cycads of Colombia.

M. Patrick Griffith PhD

Patrick has led Montgomery Botanical Center in Florida since 2005, developing the team, focusing resources and setting priorities to meet the mission. Patrick has worked in leadership, living collections management, herbarium curation, rare plant surveys, floristic inventory, laboratory research and land management, and for botanic gardens, universities, governments, and private interests. His research is in plant systematics and plant conservation and is focused on living botanical collections. As Executive Director, Patrick works to define, strengthen and promote the important contribution that Montgomery makes to this field – living collections-based conservation and research. Strategic planning for collections, capital improvements, development and collaboration is carefully aligned with the Montgomery mission: to grow outcomes in botany and horticulture. 

Tim Gregory PhD

Tim retired in 2007 after 24 years in the biopharmaceutical industry. His primary area of research was vaccine development for the prevention of HIV infection and AIDS, and he has more than 75 peer reviewed publications to his name. He was progressively promoted to positions of increased responsibility, to Staff Scientist and Senior Director of Process Sciences at one of America’s leading biotechnology companies, Genentech, Inc. Since 2007, Tim has been an entrepreneur in the biopharmaceutical industry and was an initial investor and active advisor in StemCentrx, Inc., focusing on development of oncology drugs designed to eliminate cancer stem cells.

Tim has two true passions in life: chelonians and plants. He has botanical expertise in multiple plant groups with special emphasis in the cycads, having described five species from Mexico. He is an advisor on cycad taxonomy and horticulture to the UC Botanical Garden (UCBG) and is a founding member of the Directors Advisory Board for UCBG and was Chair from 2011 to 2015. He is a principal Scientific Advisor on botanical research at The Huntington Library and Botanical Garden, San Marino, CA. He has been a member of the IUCN Cycad Specialist Group since 2000, is Co-Chair of the Conservation Committee, and a founding member of the Global Cycad Conservation Consortium. Tim currently serves on the board of directors of the Turtle Survival Alliance and is actively involved with freshwater turtle and tortoise conservation projects in Belize, Mexico, Colombia and Madagascar.

Tommie Steyn

Tommie has been involved in cycad conservation for the last 37 years and has an extensive knowledge base of their distribution, taxonomy and the ecological processes that drive the systems they survive in. Tommie holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Management from the University of the Free State and his thesis was on the Lebombo cycad, Encephalartos lebomboensis. He has surveyed the distribution of all eight Mpumalanga and four Limpopo cycad species and has extensive experience in long-term monitoring and propagation of cycads in habitat. One of his cycad projects was a runner-up of the Nedbank Green Trust Award. Tommie participated with the micro chipping of more than 2000 cycad stems and was instrumental in pioneering the micro chipping process in South Africa. He is currently involved in recovery programmes to save three of Mpumalanga’s cycad species. 

Vanessa Handley PhD

Vanessa is a conservation biologist with active field and research projects around the globe. Her overarching objective is to advance regional conservation efforts via collaborative, community-based approaches. To this end, Vanessa deploys tools that range from practical horticulture to next generation sequencing. In addition to her role as Director of Conservation Science at The Red List Project (a plant conservation nonprofit), Vanessa is Chairperson of the Global Conservation Consortium for Cycads (Montgomery Botanical Center), and a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and UC Berkeley. Her current research centers on cycad genetics and tropical montane floristics. Vanessa’s conservation activities extend to service as a Specialist within the IUCN Species Survival Commission, participation in various scientific advisory boards and conservation consortia, and mentorship of underrepresented and non-traditional students in the conservation field. Vanessa holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology from UC Berkeley and previously served as Director of Collections & Research at the UC Botanical Garden. Prior to this, Vanessa enjoyed a decade as a biology professor.