Illegal timber is transported in the Tayozhniy Wildlife Refuge, Far East Russia, in 2010. Photo: Michael Stuewe/WWF
Siberian tigers under threat as 'timber mafia' devastate Russian forests
11th May, 2011
Criminal gangs are increasingly smuggling Russian timber into China for manufacture into baby cribs, picture frames and toilet seats sold in the west. Those trying to thwart them face violence and corruption. Sebastian Strangio reports from Vladivostok
The Chinese city of Suifenhe sprawls amid the dun-coloured hills of eastern Manchuria, sitting astride the Chinese Eastern Railway at the point where it crosses the Russian frontier. Founded in the nineteenth century as an outpost of the Tsarist empire, the city is today a typical Chinese boom town of shopping centres and towering apartment blocks, some topped with onion domes in architectural homage to the city’s origins.
The city remains an important point of contact between the two countries: each day, busloads of Russian day trippers cross the border to buy up cheap Chinese clothes and electronics; to accommodate them, many Chinese signs are echoed in the angular Cyrillic script.
The city is also the main transit point for a pernicious and largely unacknowledged international trade in illegal timber. Environmentalists say thousands of cubic metres of Russian hardwoods are being illegally exported by train through Suifenhe each day, prompted by a rising Chinese demand and a culture of official corruption and fear – a trade that...
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