In 2019, Taiwan authorities made 22 arrests and seized timber worth more than US$3.3million in a raid targeting a large illegal logging ring.
Last year, six Vietnamese workers were arrested after they were found with about 400kg of timber from protected cypress trees.
Official data shows that there are hundreds of mountain rats being arrested every year.
Illegal logging has taken a toll on Taiwan’s forests and its ecosystems. Vast areas of vegetation are cleared in the process of cutting down trees and transporting them, leading to deforestation.
WHY DO MOUNTAIN RATS PERSIST?
One former illegal logger, who was in the business for decades until a few years ago, gave CNA an insight into why people continue to be attracted to the trade.
He quit illegal logging after he was caught for driving away with a truck load of poached wood. He did not want to be named for fear of reprisal.
The 50-year-old, who is now a mango grower in Southern Taiwan, started working as a mountain rat as a teenager, and continued doing so for years because the money was good.
He could make as much as over US$16,000 a month, 25 times higher than Taiwan’s minimum wage.
Those higher up in the supply chain, like tree buyers, can make 10 times more money after they turn the precious timber into fine woodcraft and furniture.
“When we received an order, we would go look for the tree the buyer asked for. Once we found it, we would use a water bottle to illustrate the size of the tree and send them the pictures we took,” he told CNA.