India’s Forest Feud: Photojournalist documents the controversy behind Indian Sandalwood

Sandalwood is one of the most divine and heaven-sent scents on this planet. A highly prized tree, the Indian sandalwood tree (Santalaum album) is the planet’s most expensive wood – high demand for its cosmetic and therapeutic value has led the tree to be highly endangered.

Reece Pickering, a photographer and documentary filmmaker, travelled to Karnataka state in southern India in 2016 where he documented the controversy behind one of the world’s most sought after woods.

The photojournalist’s series of portraits, India’s Forest Feud, documents the lives of those who cultivate, protect and rely upon sandalwood and it’s many uses. A short film, which you can view below, also accompanies the series.

The Indian sandalwood tree yields one of the costliest heartwoods and precious essential oils. This endangered forest species is severely affected due to unmet global demands, illegal trade and harvesting, overharvesting and an epidemic mycoplasmal spike disease.

Sandalwood smuggling is rampant in southern India, with a tonne selling for tens of thousands of dollars on the international black market.

India’s most notorious smuggler, Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, was behind countless tons of sandalwood being taken from the jungle and thousands of elephants killed for their tusks during the 1960s until his death in 2004. Wanted for more than 100 murders, Koose Muniswamy Veerappan made huge sums of money from sandalwood smuggling.

Image: © Reece Pickering

Reece Pickering

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea

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