Russia’s mammoth ivory industry expands: what effect on elephants?

Esmond Martin, Chryssee Martin


The commerce in woolly mammoth tusks (Mammuthus primigenius) in Russia, the main source for this raw material, has been going on for thousands of years, but during the communist period (1917-1989) the trade declined sharply. Since the early 1990s the domestic and international trade in these tusks has greatly expanded due to the freeing up of the Russian economy, more foreign visitors to the country and greater demand due to the prohibition of international trade in elephant ivory in 1990. In recent years, 60 tonnes of mammoth tusks have been exported annually from Russia, mostly to Hong Kong for carving in mainland China. Additionally, there are local carving industries in several areas of Russia, but most of the objects emerging from these locales are sold within the country.
Many thousands of recently-made mammoth ivory items are for sale in Asia, Europe and North America. People wishing to buy an elephant ivory object may purchase a similar one crafted from mammoth ivory that is legal and free of cumbersome paperwork. Mammoth ivory items are not for sale in Africa. If mammoth objects were to be offered in Africa, they could serve as cover for elephant ivory items. There are pros and cons for supporting a mammoth ivory trade in respect to elephant conservation. At the moment, however, there is no evidence that the worldwide mammoth ivory trade is adversely affecting the African or Asian elephant. For this reason, and because the species is extinct and large quantities of tusks are still available in Siberia, the commerce in mammoth ivory should not be banned.

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