Akagera National Park officials have decried the continued destruction of an endangered tree species, sandalwood, locally known as Kabaruka.
Sandalwood is a close-grained fragrant yellowish heartwood with insect repelling properties and is used for carving and cabinetwork.
The plant, said to be locally used as a raw material in the production of perfumes and lotions, is usually trafficked through porous borders to neighbouring countries.
Speaking to The New Times yesterday, the Akagera park deputy chief executive Eugene Mutangana said the tree type was at the verge of extinction.
“At least three tonnes of the tree species were destroyed between March and September. This means several other tree species were destroyed in the process because sandalwood is normally surrounded by many trees that you have to uproot before you get to it,” he said.
Mutangana urged stakeholders to work together to check the illegal transaction.
“This is a lucrative business that has attracted several people, including foreign nationals,” he said.
Mutangana said some people live in farms disguised as casual labourers, adding that they have recruited ‘gangs’ whose job is to uproot the trees.
“We are having serious issues in Karangazi Sector, another area called Kizi that borders Mwiri and Gahini sectors is also in a mess. Kizi is a black market for illegal tree business, charcoal and illicit brew (locally known as Kanyanga). They use motorbikes, bikes and sometimes vehicles, so I don’t see why we can’t work together to nab them.”
Harvesting of sandalwood tree is illegal in the country, because they are among the most endangered plant species.
John Mugabo, the mayor of Kayonza, that borders the park, echoed the need to increase the fight against the illegal business.
He said the illegal cutting of the tree species was threatening the environment.
“We are dealing with a serious concern that involves sophisticated smugglers who keep changing tactics. Our environment remains at stake. We have intercepted tonnes of Kabaruka being smuggled outside the country. We shall continue the fight,” he said.
Meanwhile, Police arrested 26 people on Monday, suspected to be part of the gang that smuggles the tree from the park.
According to Eastern Region Deputy Police Spokesman Emmanuel Kayigi, the suspects were detained at Rukara Police Station.
“The suspects were found loitering within the park. They are suspected to be part of those involved in smuggling sandallwood, although they could also be poachers; we are still investigating,” he told The New Times.
The illegal felling of Kabaruka trees is most common in Eastern Province.