Warning of ecological disaster over Malaysia forest plantations

When Sia Beng Hok goes to check his rubber and batai (Moluccan albizia) trees, he makes sure he has a rifle on the backseat of his four-wheel drive.

His plantations – all 5,000 hectares (19sq miles) of them – sit on forest reserve land in Kelantan state, in the northeast of the Malaysian peninsula – and the rifle is vital to kill or scare away wild animals.

“There are all sorts of them. Wild boars, snakes, panthers, elephants,” Sia said. But for the larger plots, he resorts to other measures, running electric fences up to 10km (6 miles) long to keep out elephants that might otherwise destroy his rubber trees.

Sia, wiry and tanned from more than 30 years in the logging industry, began planting trees for timber in 2008. He speaks of his work with pride, calling it “ecological” because his workers cut and replant the trees in cycles.

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Yao-Hua Law