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ARKIB : 03/07/2004

Large-scale sandalwood poaching in Endau-Rompin

JOHOR BAHRU July 2 - The Johor National Park authorities say they may have uncovered a massive and organised operation to steal sandalwood (gaharu) from the Endau-Rompin National Park.

Johor National Parks Corporation director Mohamed Basir Mohamed Sali said "at least 200" poachers, believed to be Thai nationals, may have entered the park illegally, possibly with the help of local accomplices.

"A police search mounted in the last few days has not found any of the poachers, but we are confident they are still in the National Park," he told Bernama.

Park authorities were alerted to the poachers' presence by the Orang Asli who reportedly saw them preparing to enter the park.

"Only this morning the Orang Asli told us they saw a suspicious-looking van leaving the park near Bekok," he said.

According to Mohamed Basir, sandalwood (which is made into incense and perfumes in the Middle East) fetches high prices of up to RM8,000 a kilogramme for grade A, between RM5,000 and RM6,000 for grade B, and about RM5,000 for grade C.

"A sandalwood tree has a current market value of RM500,000, and even small pieces are valuable, so it's not surprising the poachers are going to great lengths," he said.

On June 18 park authorities detained two Thai sandalwood poachers in Gunung Ledang National Park and three more in Endau-Rompin on June 23.

The poachers, who are now in police custody, said they worked in five-man teams who planned to stay up to a month in Endau-Rompin in search of sandalwood. (In Thailand, syndicates spend a lot of money advertising for sandalwood poachers, according to Mohamad Basir).

While the Orang Asli in Endau-Rompin harvest sandalwood in small quantities for traditional use, he said, this recent discovery of an organised, large-scale poaching operation in remote, inaccessible areas of the park is a "new and serious development." - Bernama

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