Bodies of five red sanders woodcutters were found in a lake in Andhra Pradesh's Kadapa district on Sunday, police said.
Police were investigating the cause of their death. It is suspected that they drowned in the lake while trying to escape the police searching the area to check smuggling of the rare wood.
Locals spotted the bodies floating in Vontimitta lake on Kadapa-Tirupati highway and alerted the police. The bodies were in a decomposed state. Axes, torches and food items were found in their backpacks recovered near the lake.
The woodcutters were suspected to be working for red sanders smugglers in Seshachalam forests. All of them are believed to be from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
The state police's Red Sanders Task Force recently intensified the operations to check smuggling. Last week, police had opened fire in the air to disperse a group of woodcutters trying to attack forest officials.
In 2015, 20 red sanders woodcutters were killed by police in Seshachalam hill ranges near Tirupati in Chittoor district. Since then, police arrested several smugglers and their workers.
Seshachalam forest is known for red sanders. The rare wood has huge demand in the international market and is mainly used in aphrodisiac drugs and for making musical instruments and furniture.