Criminals Will Not Leave 500,000 Tons Of Woolly Mammoth Ivory Tusks Buried In Arctic

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The upcoming CITIES conference, taking place in Sri Lanka from May 23 to June 3 and attended by 183 countries, will consider the Israeli proposal to give protection status to the woolly mammoth, a species extinct for 10,000 years.

Supporters of the Israeli proposal argue that affording the prehistoric mammoth Appendix II protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)could play a vital role in saving elephants who are being poached at the rate of around 30,000 animals a year.

Unlike the demise of the mammoth, it is the global ivory trade that is decimating elephants, argue the Israelis.

Although international trade in elephant ivory has been banned since 1990, traffickers often try to pass off illegal elephant ivory as legal mammoth ivory to circumvent the ban, because of its near identical appearance. The Israelis assume that making woolly mammoth ivory illegal will stop these transnational shipments of mixed woolly mammoth co-mingled with elephant tusks ivory or 100% elephant ivory posing as mammoth ivory. Detection is difficult in deciphering the two types of tusks at an agent inspection level.

The assertion that scientists agree that woolly mammoths became extinct because of climate change is a false one. The woolly mammoth coexisted with early humans, and was hunted as a source of food. Its tusks were used to create dwellings and other tools or even pieces of artwork. In all probability — but again there is not a universal concensus — because the woolly mammoth became extinct for multiple reasons. The Smithsonian wrote in May 2015 that severe inbreeding contributed to the mammoths’ extinction.

Researchers studying woolly mammoths on St Paul Island believe that the availability of fresh water escalated the mammoths decline. Like today’s elephants, mammoths consumed large quantities of fresh water — between 70 and 200 litres a day. As sea levels rose, not only did land mass dwindle, but freshwater as well.

Replica of a mammoth-bone structure, shown at the "Frozon  Woolly Mammoth  Yuka Exhibit" in Yokoyama, Japan in Summer 2013.

Replica of a mammoth-bone structure, shown at the "Frozon Woolly Mammoth Yuka Exhibit" in Yokoyama, Japan in Summer 2013.

Many argue that banning woolly mammoth ivory will only drive the excavation of woolly mammoth ivory into organized crime syndicates. A ban on woolly mammoth ivory will surely drive up the price of ivory, making it impossible to believe that the estimated 500,000 tons of mammoth tusks buried in the Arctic will remain there untouched.

This January 2019 PHYS.ORG article puts the price of good-quality mammoth ivory at over $1,000 per kologram. The primary area where mammoth remains searching is happening is Yakutia, an area about five times the size of France. Locals see it as the only way to achieve financial security in northern Yakutia, where jobs are scarce and the climate makes agriculture impossible.

A bill to fully regulate prospecting and the trade in mammoth tusks was introduced in the Russian parliament in 2013. For unknown reasons — but one sure can speculate — no action has been taken on implementing regulations.

"The situation is at a dead-end" as long as Yakutia can't persuade Moscow to pass the proposed bill, says regional lawmaker Vladimir Prokopyev.

There is widespread agreement that while digging up the permafrost is harmful, 90 percent of collectors simply pick up tusks from the ground. The stalled 2013 proposal to regulate mammoth excavation forbids the damaging use of water jets.

By Mauricio Antón - from Caitlin Sedwick (1 April 2008). "What Killed the Woolly Mammoth?". PLoS Biology 6 (4): e99. DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060099., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11781070

By Mauricio Antón - from Caitlin Sedwick (1 April 2008). "What Killed the Woolly Mammoth?". PLoS Biology 6 (4): e99. DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060099., CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11781070

A recent documentary called ‘Island of Skeletons’ shown on Rossiya 24 channel, accused Yakutia authorities of turning a blind eye to prospectors' "criminal" trade. The film claims that mammoth prospectors “barbarically”destroy archaeological sites.

Prokopyev alleged the film was "ordered by (Russian) mammoth oligarchs who used to be monopolists" in buying up tusks from locals and reselling them to China, but have now lost out to Chinese dealers who come to buy them direct.

Prokopy Nogovitsyn shows part of a mammoth skeleton in the backyard of his house in a village in the northern Siberian region of Yakutia  Image via

Prokopy Nogovitsyn shows part of a mammoth skeleton in the backyard of his house in a village in the northern Siberian region of Yakutia Image via

Yakutia governor Aisen Nikolayev said he is hopefull that the bill regulating the mammoth tusk collectors will finally pass in 2019, while acknowledging that resistance remains. Without a national law classifying mammoth ivory as a special natural resource, the trade remains in a "grey zone," he said.

The residents of Yakutia believe that they are a positive agent in elephant conservation. "Our dead bones are saving living elephants," said Prokopy Nogovitsyn. "Being able to gather them is important both for us and for Africa."

This gorgeous book on Kenya’s “elephant queens’ — the big tuskers — reminds us of the strong connection between elephants and woolly mammoths.