Acres of forests near the Chatham Forest Reserve in Cedros are reportedly being cleared by a businessman to set up a cattle and horse farm.
Cedros residents who staged a protest on Thursday, are now demanding an immediate halt to the forest destruction saying animals are being displaced.
They are also demanding to know which State Agency if any, permitted the land clearing.
The forests and mangroves are protected by the State and residents say the land developer has failed to show any proof of authorization to them.
When Guardian Media visited the area off Bowen Trace, Coromandel, Spanish speaking workers were seen chopping down forest trees and shrubs. A pile of dead trees stood in a heap while a wooden house was under construction on a hillside.
A fence made with tree trunks and lined with six rows of barbed wire was erected along Carlisle Trace.
Resident Tony Bedassie said he spoke with the developer who waved a piece of paper but did not allow anyone to read it.
“We are very concerned about this because we think it is a mad land grab by someone who is not authorized. We are looking at 200 acres of State land stretching all the way to the Chatham Forest Reserve. They have cut down the mangrove from somewhere and used the mangrove wood to erect a fence with six rows of barbed wire,” Bedassie said.
He explained that the destruction of the virgin forest affects the water table.
“A forest acts as a wind barrier and prevents erosion so we are against any destruction of the Forest Reserve,” he added.
Bedasie said forest rangers came and told the land developer to stop erecting a house on the site but the developer proceeded and the house is almost finished,” he added.
Another resident Makhanlal Deosaran said the developer has also intruded on private lands, blocking off fruit trees.
“We are also concerned that this placement of the barbed wires poses a risk to our hunting dogs,” Deosaran said. He expressed dismay that the cows and horses would be brought in from Venezuela saying this would exacerbate the risk of disease in the peninsula.
Another resident Victor Hillaire said he owned a private parcel of land in the area and was concerned that with the rapidly built fence, the man will be encroaching on private property.
“We are hearing that this man is going to occupy 230 acres of land. This means he will be occupying the private property as well as State forest lands,” Hillaire said.
Contacted for comment Cedros councillor Shankar Teelucksingh said Coromandel was not the only place where illegal land grabbing was taking place.
He said, “These people just go onto State land, demolish the forest and occupy the forest with no permission from the Ministry, the Forestry Division, Land Settlement Agency. The ministry seems not to have a clear policy and the unit to police these allegations are not doing anything,” he said.
He noted that there were at least three areas where lands were being stolen in the peninsula.
Contacted for comment, Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat said he was aware of the allegations and the matter was now under investigation.
However, residents said they have heard this before and they want the clearing of the forests to stop while the investigations proceed.
Late yesterday, a resident sent a photograph of a displaced monkey that came for food near a camp at Carlisle Trace, Coromandel.