Are you a threat to the Siberian tiger?

Posted by

You are probably unintentionally contributing to the future demise of the Siberian tiger. Tiger habitat, predominantly Mongolian oak, is being destroyed by illegal logging. As consumers of oak furniture, which has potentially been illegally sourced from tiger habitat, we are all part of the problem, but we can also be part of the solution. The next time you buy solid oak furniture, ask where it comes from?

The recent announcement by the WWF that global tiger numbers have increased for the first time in a century has been widely celebrated. There is no doubt that this is a significant step toward increasing the tiger population to a more sustainable level. Yet, there is more to be done to reach the Global 2020 conservation targets.

In Australia, you may wonder how you can help. Given Australia’s tough laws and adherence on CITES species, there is little to no tiger products making their way onto our shores, and most Australians are not seeking out tigers or tiger products when overseas. Thus, you may conclude that you have no impact on the tiger species.

Yet you probably are unintentionally contributing to the future demise of this species. Tiger habitat, predominantly Mongolian oak, is being destroyed by illegal logging and is one of the major limitations to the increase in tiger numbers. Australians are part of this problem, but we can also be part of the solution. Most people have some sort of solid timber furniture in their houses or workplaces. Do you know what species it is? Oak is a popular and abundant timber for furniture. Yet, there are many species of oak. Do you know which ones are in your home?

Furniture is typically just sold as “oak”. If you ask a retailer to name the species, or even the origin of the “oak”, you will most likely be met with a blank stare. There are at least 600 known species of oak, but only 19 species are used for their timber. The most commonly traded oak species are northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) from North America, and the European Oaks (Q. petraea, Q. robur). Due to the high demand for these species, the lesser known Mongolian Oak (Q. mongolica) is being substituted for these species on a regular basis. Mongolian oak is a CITES appendix III (Russian Federation) listed species. This means that Russia is seeking international assistance to control the trade of the species. A requirement of this legislation is that certification to allow the trade of the species must be attached to a consignment.

Mongolian Oak is being illegally logged from the Far East Russian forests by Russian criminal organisations and smuggled into China, where the timber is then sold as European or American Oak species. Estimates from both WWF and EIA indicate that the trade of Mongolian oak from Russia into china is between 200-400% of the permitted volumes. However it is not all doom and gloom, and recently a US company, Lumber liquidators, were fined US$13 million for illegally trading in Mongolian oak.

The effects of illegally logging Mongolian Oak are profound. The oak forests of Russia’s Primorsky Province, is home to the last known wild population of Siberian tigers (also known as the Amur tiger), of which only about 500 are known to exist. These forests are also the habitat of the highly endangered Amur Leopard (only ~60 known animals). These predators depend on intact forests for their primary source of food, Wild Boar and Red Deer, which eat the acorns of Mongolian oak. The loss of habitat also means the tigers are more easily spotted by poachers.

Effects of illegal logging in Russian Far east Forest

One of the main limitations to controlling trade of Mongolian oak is that it is difficult to distinguish the wood of oak species by eye, especially with no formal training. However, genetic markers have been developed that can routinely distinguish between the major species of white oak (Q. rubra, Q. petraea, Q. robur, and Q. mongolica).

We as timber consumers, especially oak furniture, can help out. Be an informed buyer of oak goods. Asking questions of the retailer is a good place to start:

  • What species of oak is this?
  • What is the origin of this timber?
  • Is there any certification on the origin of this product?
  • Has the company used due diligence to identify the origin of their products?
  • What is the company doing to comply with timber trade legislation?

Alternately, purchasing only products that have certification (such as FSC or PEFC) is a good way to start.

The more we as consumers can put pressure on companies to identify the origin of their timber and provide sustainable products, the more we can achieve, not just for the Siberian tigers, but also for all plant and animal species that are affected by illegal logging.

By Duncan Jardine

[Feature image: The Siberian tiger, at home in the Mongolian oak forests (]

Key References

  • Dormontt, EE, et al. “Forensic timber identification: It’s time to integrate disciplines to combat illegal logging.” Biological Conservation 191 (2015): 790-798. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2015.06.038
  • EIA (2013). Liquidating the Forests: Hardwood flooring, organised crime and the world’s ast Siberian tigers.
  • WWF (2013). Illegal logging in the Russian Far East: global demand and Taiga destruction. Milakovsky B (ed).



  1. Just noticing this blog for the first time. I work in the fields of biodiversity conservation and also climate change (adaptation and mitigation). I worked for USAID during the early to middle 1990s helping to support environmental programs in parts of Eastern Europe and Russia. I worked in both Primorsky and Khabarovsky krais. As you probably know, Primorsky krai is where Vladivostok is and is characterized by mixed deciduous forests that you describe but also Korean pine and others. At that time, with Russia just emerging from the Soviet Era, rampant deforestation of Primorsky forests wasn’t much of a problem but tiger poaching was (animal parts and skins to China, of course, right across the Amur River). Still, there was some deforestation but the really big problem for forests was seasonal fires, especially in those boreal forests that the Sitka deer preferred and that was reducing their numbers. This was hard on the tigers because the deer are a preferred prey. Sorry to hear about the Mongolian Oak. China is the real villain in so many areas of wildlife crime and natural resource predation.

    1. thanks Jim, insightful comments. Yes certainly the forest and tigers are at risk from other pressures too, which has also helped bring them to the edge of extinction. Hopefully by raising awareness of these issues, we can help avoid a negative outcome.
      Certainly Lumber Liquidators have got the message not to accept oak form this origin in their supply chains!

  2. How then does the consumer distinguish legitimate mongolian oak in the market place? Is there certified legit mongolian oak? (or more generally, how do we tell mongolian oak from the others when at the flooring or furniture stores?). With thanks in advance,

    1. Yes, this is a difficult area. At the moment oak harvested from far east Russia is generally considered to be illegal due to the lack of controls in the region, so mongolian oak from Russia is genreally not accepted, but if it comes from plantations in China then it can be. There are DNA and chemical tests that can distinguish these sources that are now being applied in the marketplace.
      A specific trackback​ system would need to be used to demonstrat​e the origin of a legally harvest stand of Mongolian​ oak, this may be relatively expensive though in the context of the broader illegality issues and consumer awareness in the region. If the legality of operations in the region is cleaned up then export could be supported.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s