GEORGE TOWN: Agarwood trees are being illegally chopped down in the forest reserves of Bukit Mertajam and Bukit Panchor for its oil extract which can fetch a good price in the Middle East.
State Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said a 10ml tube of gaharu oil, which is used as medicine and perfume, is priced at RM140.
“We suspect that there are foreign syndicates involved in the chopping of the trees over the last four years.
“They usually go into the forest at night to cut down six or seven trees using axes so no one can hear them,” he told a press conference at his office in Komtar yesterday.
Phee advised forest rangers to be careful when faced with these culprits as they could be carrying firearms.
State Forestry Department director Shah Rani Ahmad Zailan said the culprits would identify the agarwood trees in scattered areas of the forest.
“Their activities have been detected from Cherok To'kun in Bukit Mertajam to Simpang Ampat and Bukit Panchor in Nibong Tebal.
“The culprits know the value of the gaharu oil which can fetch up to RM1,000 per kilo, depending on its grade,” he said.
Shah Rani added that surveillance had shown that the culprits spoke with a foreign accent.
An investigating officer of the department, Mariatul Qiptiyah Md Sah, said eight Malaysian men were arrested on Sept 3 while several people managed to escape another raid at around 4am on Oct 2.
Malaysia is the world's leading source of agarwood, with half the global supply of the perfumed wood coming from here.
This has put seven of the 18 agarwood tree species growing here at risk of extinction.
Two reports launched last year by wildlife trade monitoring body TRAFFIC showed that rising demand for agarwood, problems in monitoring harvests and a persistent illegal trade threatened the future of the fragrant wood.