FFI and the Cambodian Ministry of Environment recently launched a raid to seize a large quantity of sassafras oil in the remote Cardamom Mountains of south-west Cambodia.
After an anonymous tip-off, Ministry of Environment rangers in Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary raided a hidden cache of 142 drums, containing 5.7 tons of sassafras oil, illegally extracted from the rare Mreah Prew Phnom tree.
The oil has legitimate uses in the cosmetics industry, but can be used more lucratively as a precursor in the manufacture of MDMA—more commonly known as ecstasy. It is estimated that if used the illicit oil had been used in drug production, the oil could have produced 44 million tablets of ecstasy with the street value of US$1.2billion.
FFI Wildlife Sanctuary Technical Advisor, Tim Wood, said:
“This is the largest seizure of its kind inside Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary and represents a major success in our ongoing efforts to rid the Sanctuary of this illegal activity.
“We could not do this without the support of the local community, who often give us intelligence on sassafras oil production and other forest crimes. Local people do not stand to benefit from these crimes, and rightly do not stand back and see their natural resources stripped from their ancestral lands. Their support is hugely valued.”
FFI have been working in partnership with the Ministry of Environment since 2000 to protect the forests and biodiversity of Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, and have in recent years been fighting a constant battle to stamp out the extraction and distribution of sassafras oil.