JOHOR BARU: Illegal harvesting activities of agarwood (gaharu) by foreigners are rampant in Johor forests especially in the Endau-Rompin National Park and Panti Forest Reserve.
Malaysia Nature Society (MNS) Johor chairman Vincent Chow claimed that the activities have been going on for many years but difficult to wipe them out.
He said there was good money to be made from agarwood as the highest grade could fetch up to RM60,000 per kg while the low quality ones could be sold for RM30,000 per kg.
“The syndicates are very well organised involving local masterminds who hired Indonesians and Thais as their poachers,” Chow told StarMetro.
He said having been operating for years; the syndicates knew their ways of the forests; hence able to avoid action from the enforcement agencies.
Chow said apart from being well-versed of the surroundings, they were also armed with weapons and equipped with gadgets such as mobile satellite phones while in the forests.
He said Mersing and Kuala Rompin were the favourite staging points for them to enter the forests via rivers at night to avoid detection from the enforcement agencies.
“Most of the poachers are Thais and Indonesians and they will normally spend at about two weeks inside the forests to harvest the agarwood,” Chow added.
He said back in 2005 and 2006, he bumped into several men believed to be Thais in the Endau-Rompin National Park.
Chow said they told him a local man from Segamat had hired them to go into the forest for two weeks to harvest agarwood to be sent for processing to Southern Thailand.
“I came across a shop in one of the towns in southern Thailand selling agarwood and the label stated that the woods were harvested in Endau-Rompin for US$30,000 per kg,” he said.
Chow said agarwood was sought-after in the Middle east market and can be processed to become joss sticks and perfume.
Meanwhile, state health and environment chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said that the state government was aware of the illegal agarwood harvesting in the Johor forests.
He said the static cameras installed on trees in the Endau-Rompin National Park to capture images of wild animals instead managed to record movements of illegal poachers.
“Normally they (poachers) are moving in a group of four or five people and spend between one and two weeks in the forests looking for gaharu,” said Ayub.
He said the state government would request the assistance from the army to assist the forestry department officers to nab the poachers as they were armed and could pose risk to the officers.