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Rare Tigers Threatened by Economic Crisis, WWF Says


NGS photo of Amur tigers by Michael Nichols

Loggers in Russia’s Far East increasingly are cutting down Korean cedar pine, raising concerns that the endangered Siberian (or Amur) tiger could lose critical habitat and its prey could lose a major food source, the conservation charity WWF said today.

“Under pressure from the ongoing economic crisis, loggers are turning to the more lucrative Korean cedar pine (Pinus korajensis) as commodity prices for other types of wood fall, which in turn has led to large-scale illegal logging operations in the Ussuriiskaya taiga in Primorye,” according to a statement released by WWF-Russia.

Siberian tiger facts.jpg

“Chinese importers of the Far Eastern wood have sharply dropped prices and demand for oak and ash wood as an answer to the world crisis,” said Denis Smirnov, head of the forest program at WWF-Russia’s Amur branch. “These species were the most desired ones for poachers before, but the demand was reduced after export customs duties for these species of timber had been increased from February 1.”

“At the same time, Korean pine wood is still highly demanded both in domestic and international markets and is sold at rather high prices,” Smirnov said.

Russia’s Far East Korean cedar pine forests were heavily logged during the second half of the 20th century, particularly in the late 1990s, which resulted in a 50 percent reduction and left only around seven million acres (three million hectares) of the forests today, WWF said.

Although P. koraiensis is not nationally protected in Russia, its logging is either prohibited or regulated in certain provinces of Russia and China. “However, loggers typically exploit loopholes in regional regulations to launder illegally logged wood, often taking advantage of lax customs controls or by under-declaring the volume of legal exports,” the statement added.

“This rampant and mindless logging is shocking and disturbs the habitat and prey base of some of the rarest animals in the world including the Amur tiger and Amur leopard,” said Susan Lieberman, director of the Species Programme for WWF-International.


In the Amur region, tiger conservation hinges on protecting the Korean cedar pine, accordiong to WWF. Pine nuts from the tree represent an integral food source for the Amur tiger’s prey, such as wild boars. Korean pine-broadleaved forests also provide habitats for the Far Eastern leopard, Asiatic and brown bears, sika deers and many other species. These pine nuts are also sold internationally, benefiting local communities as well.


Photo of cedar pine logs in Russia courtesy WWF-Russia

Awareness of the recently increased demand for Korean cedar pine surfaced after WWF staff, with members of Russia’s Internal Affairs Department, the Primorskii Province Forestry Department and Rosselkhoznadzor–the Federal Service of Veterinary and Phyto-Sanitary Supervision–raided a wood exporter platform in January in the city of Dalnerechensk, WWF said. 



They found about 350,000 to 425,000 cubic feet (10,000 to 15,000 cubic meters) of Korean cedar pine originating from illegal logging sites in Dalnerechenskii, Krasnoarmeiskii and Lesozavodskii districts in central and northern Primorye, the news release said.


“Two largest of logging sites, with total volume exceeding 3,000 cubic meters [100,000 cubic feet], were found close to the village of Malinovo in an area leased by one of the biggest logging companies in Primorye–JSC ‘Dalnerechenskles,’ which is part of the ‘Dallesprom’ group.”


NGS photo of Siberian tiger by Michael Nichols

Before enforcement of a new Russian Forest Code in 2007, Korean pine held a special status as a species protected from commercial use, which contributed to its conservation. Korean pine has now lost its protective status and increased demand for Korean pine timber along with the complete inaction of regulators and forest control services to address the need for a new special status for the Korean pine have made it an easy target for illegal logging, WWF said.


The only way to stop the complete destruction of the Far Eastern Korean pine forests is to impose a moratorium on its harvesting, according to WWF. The conservation organization asks that provincial and federal authorities come up with a proposal to urgently add Korean pine into the list of species forbidden to harvest, and to inform importing countries accordingly.



NGS illustration by Walter A. Weber

Siberian tigers are the world’s largest cats. They live primarily in eastern Russia’s birch forests, though some exist in China and North Korea. A Siberian tiger, which can weigh up to 660 pounds (300 kilograms) and measure around ten feet (three metres) from its nose to the tip of its tail, has come back from the brink of extinction to its highest population for at least 100 years, according to WWF. “Only about 40 were alive in 1950 but nowadays there are around 450, one of the strongest tiger populations in the world,” WWF said.

Additional information:

Amur (Siberian) Tigers (WWF)

Biggest Tiger Pounces Back From Brink (National Geographic News, 2007)

Siberian Tigers Stable, According to Landmark Survey (National Geographic News, 2005)