101 East follows the trail of illegal poachers who risk it all for the exotic hardwood, driving a species to extinction.
Thailand’s Siamese rosewood forests could be extinct within a decade because of illegal logging. In just five years, poaching of the rare hardwood has increased 850 percent, driven by an insatiable demand for luxury furniture in China.
But the price is not just financial or environmental. Huge criminal organisations are trafficking rosewood at higher prices than narcotics, leaving the bodies of smugglers and law enforcement officers in their path.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
The rosewood is so valuable that poachers are always heavily armed.
Thai forest ranger ‘Jog’ Sornpui risks his life every time he enters the jungle on patrol. Dressed in camouflage fatigues and carrying an automatic rifle, he looks more like a soldier ready for combat.
And in a sense he is. His enemy, the rosewood poachers, are armed with AK47’s and bombs. Forty of Jog’s fellow rangers have been killed in the line of duty in the past few years.
101 East treks deep into the Thai rainforest with Jog and his colleagues as they hunt down rosewood poachers, and narrowly avoid a late night shootout with their prey. But the situation for the poachers is desperate too.
In the search for the deep red timber of the Siamese Rosewood tree, which sells on the black market for hundreds of thousands of dollars in China, they risk arrest and death as they dodge Thai army patrols to cross the border. Their reward is a fraction of the money that brokers and corrupt officials are making from this illegal trade.
Across the border in Cambodia, the ringleaders of an illegal logging gang reveal to 101 East just how the rosewood business works. This illegal trade is now so pervasive “it’s on par with the narcotics trade … corrupting law enforcement agencies” across South East Asia, according to those who are trying to shut it down. But demand in China continues to rise.
101 East follows the trail of illegal poachers, prepared to kill or be killed for the exotic hardwood.
Join the conversation at @AJ101East
101 East airs each week at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2230; Friday: 0930; Saturday: 0330; Sunday: 1630.
Watch more 101 East