Photo: Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation
Six Vietnamese nationals have been arrested by Thai park rangers for allegedly stealing Agarwood, a fragrant wood used in making incense and perfume, in Phu Khiao Wildlife Sanctuary in the north-eastern province of Chaiyaphum.
Atthaphon Charoenchansa, acting director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, said today (Monday) that the arrests on Saturday followed about two months of investigation by the department, after the arrest of another Vietnamese national at the end of last year.
Chief of the wildlife sanctuary, Wichanon Saenphala, told Thai PBS that officials intercepted two cars in which about 173kg of Agarwood chips were found, adding that the six Vietnamese nationals in the cars were taken into custody.
He disclosed that, previously, most of the thefts of scented wood in forests close to the Cambodian border were committed by Thais and Cambodians. In recent years, however, the poachers have been Vietnamese and the illegal activities have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic eased.
He said that the Vietnamese entered Thailand legally through immigration checkpoints in Nong Khai and Nakhon Phanom provinces, travelled to Chaiyaphum and slipped into the wildlife sanctuary, where there are many Agarwood trees.
The suspects are familiar with the terrain and can live in the woods for up to 45 days at a time to search for Agarwood trees. Using only knives, they cut the old stumps and turn them into chips before leaving the forest and selling them to Vietnamese traders.
The wildlife sanctuary chief explained that knives are preferred by the thieves over other hand tools, such as saws or chainsaws, because they do not make a loud noise.
The Agarwood chips fetch at least 5,000 baht/kg, but the price can go up to 200,000 baht/kg for high quality chips.
According to the department, there are about 390,000 Agarwood trees scattered across 24 wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in northern and north-eastern regions of Thailand.