Russia’s ‘Guilt-free’ Mammoth Ivory: How will it affect illegal elephant ivory trade?

In recent times, mainstream press has carried stories of the growing trade in ‘guilt-free’ mammoth ivory being dug up in Russia and being sold mostly in China. The most recent news items are based on a research paper published in Pachyderm – the journal of the African Elephant, African Rhino and the Asian Rhino Specialist Groups of the IUCN – by Esmond Martin and Chryssee Martin.

Michelle Obama - Huffington Post

Huffington Post image of Michelle Obama wearing a necklace made from mammoth ivory

The paper, titled, ‘Russia’s mammoth ivory industry expands: what effect on elephants?’ explores the effects that this growing trade will have on Africa’s elephants. On the one hand, the paper acknowledges that this trade could reduce demand for elephant ivory and consequently considerably reduce poaching of the African Elephant. On the other hand, the authors are cautious that should mammoth ivory be imported into Africa (none has been reported to have entered the continent so far), then – it being legal and all – it could provide an easy disguise for poached elephant ivory. Illegal ivory traders could start selling elephant ivory disguised as mammoth ivory.

That said, Martin and Martin specifically say that the trade in mammoth ivory should not be banned as it does not presently pose any threat to the African Elephant. They however make it clear that monitoring of the chief markets of mainland China and Hong Kong should be monitored to see how the trend goes.

Some facts:

  • Russia sells about 60 tons of mammoth ivory to China
  • There may be as many as 150 million dead mammoths (genus Mammuthus) frozen beneath the Siberian tundra just waiting to be dug up.
  • Mammoth ivory can command a much higher price than elephant ivory and sells for as much as £330 per kilogram
  • Woolly mammoths are thought to have first appeared on the earth 4.8 million years ago and to have finally become extinct at least 3,600 years ago.
  • Trade in raw elephant ivory is banned globally but one off ivory sales have been allowed by CITES on different occasions since the ban.
  • Illegal trade in ivory is the major threat to the African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) survival.
  • A list of press articles related to Martin and Martin’s paper can be found here.
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