Forest department officials in India’s state of Kerela are implanting sandalwood trees with tracking devices in an effort to protect dwindling forests from illegal logging. Once the devices are activated, satellites will be used to monitor forests and detect attempts to cut wood or smuggle timber from forest areas.
The trade in contraband sandalwood is one of the most profitable in India, causing forests to shrink at alarming rates. In Kerala’s Marayur Forest, the number of sandalwood trees has dropped from 62,000 to 55,000 in just three years.
Prized for its natural fragrance, sandalwood is used to scent incense, and its oil is used in the manufacture of perfumes. The soft wood of sandalwood trees is used for carving and as an ingredient in some Indian medicines. These features put sandalwood in high demand, but world resources are limited.
Although laws to protect India’s sandalwood forests are already in place, enforcement has been difficult. Smugglers often bribe local politicians, and many forests are too large to patrol. Officials hope satellite tracking will help boost enforcement by allowing them to monitor previously inaccessible forest areas and by spurring political action as tracking results are released to the public.
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