In Siberia, Chinese demand for prehistoric tusks fuels 'mammoth rush'

phys.org | 1/4/2019 | Staff
monnamonna (Posted by) Level 3
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Crouching near a wooden shed in his snowy backyard, Prokopy Nogovitsyn lifts up a grey tarpaulin and takes out a vertebra the size of a saucer: part of a mammoth skeleton.

"Some friends found this in the north and wanted to sell it," says Nogovitsyn, who lives in a village in the northern Siberian region of Yakutia. "But it lacks tusks, so nobody wanted it."

Mammoth - Bones - Yakutia - Region - Arctic

Mammoth bones are widespread in Yakutia, an enormous region bordering the Arctic Ocean covered by permafrost, which acts as a giant freezer for prehistoric fauna.

But over the last few years this part of the world has experienced something of a mammoth rush: after China banned the import and sale of elephant ivory, its traditional carvers turned to the tusks of the elephants' long-extinct ancestors.

Exports - Tonnes - Percent - China

Russian exports amounted to 72 tonnes in 2017, with over 80 percent going to China.

Some Chinese buyers come to Yakutia to buy tusks directly, while some Russians also export them.

Thousands - Mammoths - Pleistocene-era - Steppe - Tens

Thousands of woolly mammoths roamed the Pleistocene-era steppe tens of thousands of years ago and their remains are preserved in Yakutia's permafrost.

Authorities estimate that 500,000 tonnes of mammoth tusks—known as "ice ivory"—are buried here.

Hunters - Fishermen - Bones - River - Banks

Local hunters and fishermen have long picked up mammoth bones along river banks and sea coasts but prices dramatically increased over the last decade, leading fortune-seekers on arduous Arctic quests.

The new industry has created a new source of revenue and led to an increase in paleontological discoveries.

Hunters - Licences - Trade - Complain - Pressure

While tusk hunters can obtain licences, the trade is still not fully regulated and some complain of pressure from the authorities and confiscation of their finds.

'Tusks to the people!'

Tusks - Affair - Months - Advance - Equipment

Collecting tusks is a complicated affair prepared months in advance. Equipment has to be shipped hundreds of kilometres (miles) to the north.

Yakutia covers three million square kilometres (1.2 million square miles), an area five times the size of...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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