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Conservation status in Malaysia

    Some popular media reports have gone so far as to claim that “in the forests of Malaysia and Indonesia, the eight species of agarwood have already reached the point of no return” (Ziauddin, 2003). However, even for most of those species that have been evaluated on a global level, the local status often remains uncertain. Prior to 1994, the IUCN Red List Category system considered the Malaysian population of A.malaccensis to be“Indeterminate”.
   

     However, there is in fact a substantial amount of information available about Aquilaria at a generic level and specifically regarding Aquilaria malaccensis. Historically, the genus Aquilaria was reported to be quite common in Malaysia. In the 17th Century, Eredia noted “dense groves” of Aquilaria trees in the hinterland of Malacca (Mills, 1930). Indeed, Aquilaria malaccensis derives its species epithet from this historical trading port and State on the west coast of the Malay peninsula. It was given the name by the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who described the species in 1783 from a specimen presented to him by his associate Pierre Sonnerat as “Garo de Malacca”. Similarly, Adams (1848) noted that Aquilaria was one of the most common trees in the forests of north-west Borneo near Abai at the mouth of the Sungai Kinabatangan, in what is now the State of Sabah. Aquilaria malaccensis grows up to an altitude of 1000 m, Corner (1978), and has even been recorded growing in freshwater swamp forest in Sedili, Johor (Corner, 1978). Detailed inventories carried out in the mid-20th Century (Wyatt-Smith, 1995) noted that A. malaccensis was a ‘rare to uncommon tree, usually of poor form”; noting per-hectare stem stocking densities (>4’ g.b.h., i.e. >38.8 cm d.b.h.) of 0.297 (Kedah), 0.507 (Malacca) and 0.349 (Kelantan); as well as 1.65 stems per hectare (>6” g.b.h., i.e. >4.85 cm d.b.h.) (Pahang). The species has also been reported from Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, which has a path running through it named ‘Jalan Aquilaria.
   

    The Forest Department Peninsular Malaysia carried out a National Forest Inventory every 10 years since1972. The Third National Forest Inventory (NFI-3) carried out in 1992 showed that ‘Karas/Gaharu’(Aquilaria spp.) was found throughout Peninsular Malaysia in both logged and virgin forest (Chin et al.,1997). It was found that in the ‘Best Virgin Forest’ stratum there were 1.79 stems per hectare (>10 cmd.b.h.) of ‘Karas/Gaharu’ species (Table 1). The Fourth National Forest Inventory (NFI-4) began in 2003and was due to be published in 2006. Initial analysis (Mohd Paiz, 2006) revealed an estimate of 3.06million stems (>15 cm d.b.h.) of Aquilaria spp. in Peninsular Malaysia (however, stocking density was not given).

    This translated into an estimated volume of 1.83 million m³ of Aquilaria timber (not necessarily containing gaharu). It was also estimated that 95% of the total number of trees are between 15 cm and 45cm d.b.h., which made up of 66.8% of the total volume of Aquilaria trees. Pahang State was regarded to have the highest volume of Aquilaria; while Kelantan State the highest number of stems (Mohd Paiz,2006)

Table 1
Stocking density of “Karas/Gaharu” in Peninsular Malaysia by forest type (stems & cubic metres per hectare)

    The findings of the national forest inventories were generally consistent with other site-specificin ventories. For example, the 1.54 stems per hectare (>10 cm d.b.h.) recorded by Lim and Jamaluddin(1994) in a forest in Negeri Sembilan. However, studies by the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM)have found that increased competition for gaharu has led to indiscriminate felling of Aquilaria trees “consequently, the survival of the A. malaccensis is threatened” (Lim et al., 2003). Indeed, other FRIM
experts have reported that the species is increasingly scarce in Peninsular Malaysia (Cheah, 1997).

    There have been no recent studies on agarwood-producing species in Sabah. However, in Sarawak, Chin(1985) noted the “exhaustion” of gaharu in Tinjar due to over-collection in the mid- to late-1970s. Lee etal. (2002) reported approximately 190 stems of Aquilaria beccariana (>1 cm d.b.h.) from a 52-ha Long Term Ecological Research Plot in Lambir Hills National Park (0.3 stems per hectare >3 cm d.b.h.). However, it was reported that most of the Aquilaria trees in this plot had been wounded by gaharu collectors and were felt to be too small to sustain the population (Dawend et al., 2005). Similarly, Dawendet al. (2005) reported that a study of gaharu collection in Belaga found that the local supply had been depleted over the last 50 years. Despite these reports of depletion, the Sarawak Forestry Corporation reported that agarwood-producing species continued to be widespread in Sarawak, with total stocking densities averaged at 0.16032 stems per ha (>20 cm d.b.h.) (S. Bakar, Sarawak Forestry Corporation, comm. 1 March 2006), however, the basis for this figure was not provided.

 

 

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