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Timber ‘mass graves’ uncovered as Malaysian authorities pursue illegal loggers

Rainforest in Peninsular Malaysia. Photos by Rhett Butler.

A crackdown on illegal logging in Peninsular Malaysia’s largest continuous forest complex has uncovered three timber “mass graves” – burial sites where valuable logs have been stashed beneath tons of earth to hide evidence.

The loggers apparently made haste in fleeing the hilly terrain where they left the timber. A joint operation by Malaysia’s antigraft agency, the MACC, and Forestry Department found parts of logs sticking out of the ground and the red earth still unsettled, indications their quarry had hurriedly concealed the felled trees.

The loggers also “dumped tree branches and other debris down the slope, causing nearby streams to become clogged,” New Straits Times reported.

The crackdown began in February after the MACC discovered that loggers were manipulating national safeguards for sustainable logging.

Under the country’s Selective Management System (SMS), the Forestry Department issues tags for trees that can be cut down. But loggers were messing with the tags, slapping the wrong ones on trees that should have been preserved.

Official corruption has not been ruled out.

Rainforest in peninsular Malaysia

“If all the check-and-balance procedures are followed, it will be difficult for the culprits to steal the logs or cheat the authorities,” said MACC Assistant Commissioner Anuar Mohd Noh.

The crackdown has focused on the Temenggor forest reserve in the Belum-Temenggor forest complex, which is thought to be 130 million years old, making it one of the world’s oldest rainforests. It is home to endangered tigers and elephants and a variety of other wildlife.

The confiscated logs include timber of the high-grade merbau and meranti varieties.

“We believe that about 400 tons of logs worth more than [$277,000] were buried at the three locations and the culprits are waiting for the right time to dig them out and sell them,” Anuar said.

Pictures of the “mass graves” can be viewed at the bottom of this page.

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