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Green Customs Knowledge Series No. 5. Developed by the CITES Secretariat. Differentiating real and imitation furs. Questions to answer. What furs and skins are internationally traded? How can real fur be differentiated from fake fur?

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developed by the cites secretariat

GreenCustomsKnowledge Series No. 5

Developed by the CITES Secretariat

Differentiating real and imitation furs

questions to answer
Questions to answer
  • What furs and skins are internationally traded?
  • How can real fur be differentiated from fake fur?
  • What about 'counterfeit' furs, when fur of one species is altered to look like another?
  • Is there an easy way to differentiate bobcat skins from similar species?
  • Mammal skins (leather, fur) and products (hair, wool) are widely traded, and their identification is made difficult by the range of species involved, the various types of processed and unprocessed specimens in trade, and the variability of the species themselves
furs and mammal skins
Furs and mammal skins

Types of furs and skins in international trade:

Raw (dried) or tanned furs (clothing)

Raw (dried) hides or tanned skins (leather)

Hunting trophies (mounted or un-mounted skins)

Curio pelts

Items made with leather, furs

Hair, wool

furs and mammal skins1
Furs and mammal skins

Main groups in trade

'Traditional' furbearers (beaver, chinchilla, ermine, fox, marten, mink, muskrat, opossum, otter, raccoon, sable, seal, wolverine etc.)

Primates (colobus monkey)

Small cats (leopard cat, margay, ocelot)

Large cats (bobcat, cheetah, jaguar, leopard, lynx, snow leopard, tiger)




Wolf, coyote

Unusual leathers (elephant, pangolin, rhinoceros)

Processed fur (Tibetan antelope, vicuna)

fake and counterfeit skins
Fake and counterfeit skins

Differentiating real from fake

Raw or tanned whole skins will have a an irregular shape and include parts such as tails, legs etc., as well as imperfections or collection marks

Cut pieces may be irregular in size, but will clearly show a leather base

Fake fur is usually made from polyester or acrylic materials

fake and counterfeit skins1
Fake and counterfeit skins

Differentiating real from fake (garments)

Push apart the fur to look at the base

Real fur will have a skin/leather base that is whitish, or possibly dyed the same color as the fur

Fake fur will have a cloth or woven base

If the base is not clearly visible on a garment, try to see the underside of the 'fur', perhaps by undoing some stitching

fake and counterfeit skins2
Fake and counterfeit skins

Differentiating real from fake (garments)

If the fur has not been sheared, look at longer guard hairs under a magnifying glass

Real fur will be tapered towards the tip, fake fur will be of the same diameter throughout

Remove a few hairs and, well away from the specimen, subject the loose hairs to a flame

Real fur will smell like burned human hair, fake fur will not

fake and counterfeit skins3
Fake and counterfeit skins

Differentiating real from fake (garments)

Experience is a real help

Fake fur does not have the look, feel, sheen or other qualities of natural fur



fake and counterfeit skins4
Fake and counterfeit skins
  • Counterfeit skins may be real skins, but are not the species claimed by traders or identified on documentation, labels or other marks
    • Furs of common species (e.g. domestic cat, rabbit, dog, goat) are dyed or hand-colored to resemble rare species (e.g. counterfeit tiger pelts)
    • Cowhide is pressed / embossed with a pattern resembling rare species (e.g. elephant)
fake and counterfeit skins5
Fake and counterfeit skins

Pressed cow leather sold as 'genuine elephant leather'

fake and counterfeit skins6
Fake and counterfeit skins

Counterfeit tiger skin

fake and counterfeit skins7
Fake and counterfeit skins

Curiously, real fur (often from Asian raccoon dog Nyctereutes procyonoides, non-CITES) may be labeled as 'fake fur' (or 'faux fur') on clothing

fake and counterfeit skins8
Fake and counterfeit skins

Counterfeit skins are generally meant to fool persons who are not familiar with the real item

Low value skins are passed off as high-value skins

NOTE: High value skins are never passed off as low value skins, and high value skins are not likely to be made into 'ordinary' products

cat furs general
Cat furs - general

Cat fur skins can be differentiated from other furs as follows:

cat fur consists of guard hairs and underfur

guard hairs form a continuous cover which almost hides the underfur

guard hairs are straight

fur covers the tail

whole skin at least 45cm long (adults, without tail)

tail is evenly thick from base to tip, or only slightly tapered

belly has the same color or is lighter than the back

black markings on the upper side are never on a white ground (except domestic cats)

cat furs general1
Cat furs - general

The quality of cat furs vary from species to species, according to the number of hairs per cm2, length of guard hairs, and the ratio of guard hairs to underfur hairs

Cheetah has 2000 hairs per cm2

Tiger has 2500 hairs per cm2

Lynx has 9000 hairs per cm2


differentiating bobcat and lynx
Differentiating bobcat and lynx
  • Bobcat specimens are similar in appearance to skins, parts and products of other small spotted cats, including the Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus, the Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx, the Canada lynx Lynx canadensis and the Mexican bobcat Lynx rufus escuinapae
  • The skins are so similar that small pieces cannot be distinguished even using forensic laboratory analysis
differentiating bobcat and lynx1
Differentiating bobcat and lynx

Known uses of lynx and bobcat skins:

Canada Lynx Lynx canadensis fur

Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx fur, trophies

Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus Appendix I, extremely rare, no trade known

Bobcat Lynx rufus fur

Mexican bobcat Lynx rufus escuinapae trophies

differentiating bobcat and lynx2
Differentiating bobcat and lynx

With black-tipped tails

Canada lynx Lynx canadensis

Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx

Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus

With white on tails(at least on the underside)

Bobcat Lynx rufus

Mexican bobcat Lynx rufus escuinapae

differentiating bobcat and lynx3
Differentiating bobcat and lynx

Canada lynx


Note the black-tipped tail

Note the presence of white on the tail

differentiating bobcat and lynx4
Differentiating bobcat and lynx
  • The greatest conservation danger may be posed by mistaking fur pieces from the extremely rare Eurasian lynx with the common and commercially-traded bobcat

Eurasian lynx


differentiating bobcat and lynx5
Differentiating bobcat and lynx
  • It is true that bobcat fur pieces cannot be differentiated from pieces from the other lynx species
  • But why would anyone want to pass off a rare and highly valuable item as coming from a common species that has low commercial value?
  • It is highly unlikely that this would ever occur, and there is no reason to believe that Eurasian lynx would ever be passed off as the common bobcat
  • A wide variety of furs and skins are internationally traded
  • Real fur can be differentiated from fake fur by careful examination of the base of the 'hairs', and other clues
  • 'Counterfeit' furs are meant to fool users into believing another species, or a synthetic, is used
  • Whole bobcat skins can be easily identified by the presence if white on the tail, but cut pieces cannot be reliably differentiated from similar species
  • The rarity and high value of similar species suggests that these would never be traded as low-value bobcat