The table we’re writing on is made of rosewood, the most trafficked wildlife product in the world. For months, we’ve been researching the uptick in logging and poaching, which are gradually emptying out the forests here in Cambodia as well as neighboring Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar. Rosewood trafficking is a brutal business closely interwoven with drug smuggling as evidenced by a bust on the home of now-deceased drug kingpin Sathit Wiyaporn in October, where Bangkok police found 160 million baht ($4.9 million) worth of rosewood planks. Rangers who stand in the way of illegal operations frequently turn up murdered.
Most of the rosewood trade is destined for China, where it sells for up to $100,000 per cubic meter, but plenty winds up in homes across Southeast Asia. Or right here, under our noses, at this Western-owned restaurant in Kampot, a riverside backpacker trail town popular with stoners and yoga aficionados. “Did you know this is a protected species?” we asked, astounded. The owner shrugged self-consciously. “I know, I know,” she said, exhaling a plume of weed smoke. “But look at the quality. It’s a beautiful piece of wood.”
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