As arctic permafrost melts due to rising global temperatures, previously unobtainable mammoth ivory has become accessible to harvesting by paleontologists and ivory traders. Though legal to sell, as mammoth’s are already extinct, the new influx of mammoth ivory is raising fears that it may increase the overall demand for ivory, and with it the poaching of endangered elephants.
In Alaska, gold miners now pursue the formerly frozen ivory, while indigenous Siberians perform the work in Russia. Over half of the world’s exports of the new ivory are from Russia to Hong Kong, but because Russian regulations only permit the sale of full tusks with a permit, many simply cut the mammoth tusks into smaller pieces, avoiding the regulations.
Thousands of mammoth tusks are also becoming available in Alaska and Canada, though 93.5% of the world's supply comes from Siberia. Prices for premium grade mammoth ivory have risen dramatically in the last five years, from $160 per pound, to $860.
But some see a business opportunity in attempting to pass off illegal elephant ivory as mammoth ivory.
In a report, commissioned by the Save the Elephants charity, incidents of Chinese ivory traders attempting this bait and switch show they have resorted to staining elephant ivory in order to give the appearance of mammoth ivory. Radiocarbon dating and DNA tests to discriminate between the two varieties are too slow and expensive for widespread implementation, raising significant enforcement problems for police.
Researcher Lucy Vigne, who co-authored the report, claimed there is currently no consensus on a proper course of action regarding mammoth ivory, stating, “There is no scientific evidence yet published on whether the mammoth ivory trade has a negative effect on elephants or a positive effect. This ought to be looked into in greater depth before a ban is suggested.”