A 300 year old mahogany tree is not just a tree. It’s a habitat for hundreds of species. It’s a carbon dioxide absorber, and a manufacturer of oxygen. It’s a energetic living enterprise, but one that takes just a few hours to chainsaw down, destined to be turned into planks for table tops.
Britain is the second largest importer of mahogany after the US, but in Peru, a country in which half the landmass is covered by forest, four out of every five exported mahoganies are harvested illegally. The vast forest is difficult to police, and local officials are prone to being bribed to turn a blind eye. With Brazil’s ban on mahogany exports in 2001, Peru has become the world’s prime exporter. As the mahogany gets harder to find, that which is left in national parks attracts loggers deeper into the rainforest to find it.
As Charlie discovers himself, stopping illegal logging is rife with complexity. That’s because illegal logging is intrinsically linked to people living in poverty, being a potential source of income for many local people who have few other ways to support themselves. Only when their needs are addressed, and alternative sources of sustainable income made available to them, will conservation be really successful.