Illegal felling n harvesting devastating HK incense trees

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    For centuries, the resinous wood inside incense trees, agarwood, has been prized in East Asian religions, art and geomancy. But a recent surge in demand has raised the price of the internationally protected wood so drastically that it is sometimes worth more than its weight in gold. This temptation has drawn illegal loggers into Hong Kong, where the threat is not only environmental but also cultural.

    The illegal loggers who descend on Hong Kong are thought to be just the front lines of criminal syndicates that supply an active agarwood black market. Business is good. Gerard McGuirk, a sales director at Asia Plantation Capital, says the industry is worth at least $6 billion, with illegal trades exceeding aboveboard sales. This volume is not surprising considering a kilogram of agarwood can fetch about $13,000, McGuirk says, with reports of the highest-grade wood selling for upwards of $120,000 a kilogram. Sculptures and bracelets made from the best wood, what is known as “sinking quality” because it is too dense to float, have been valued around $1 million.

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