Hunt is on in Russia to make mammoth profits from ivory
Russia is mining the remains of its long-extinct woolly mammoths to meet a growing demand for ethical ivory.
Taking advantage of a global ban on the trade in elephant ivory, Russia is gambling that ivory lovers will pay a premium for ethically sourced mammoth ivory instead.
America's First Lady Michelle Obama has been photographed wearing jewellery crafted from mammoth ivory.
Russia is exporting 60 tonnes of mammoth ivory to China, the world's biggest ivory market, per year, and scientists estimate that there are huge reserves as yet untapped.
They say there could be 150 million dead mammoths frozen beneath the Siberian tundra.
"Every year, from mid-June, when the tundra melts, until mid-September, hundreds, if not thousands, of mostly local people scour the tundra in northern Siberia looking for mammoth tusks," a new report said. Woolly mammoths are thought to have first appeared about 4.8 million years ago and to have become extinct at least 3,600 years ago.
As more of the permafrost beneath the tundra melts, as a consequence of global warming, their sometimes well-preserved remains are surfacing with growing frequency.
Russian businessmen have been quick to utilise the resource, as mammoth ivory can command a much higher price than elephant ivory, selling for €400 per kilogramme. Elephant conservationists are hoping that the sustainable mammoth ivory trade continues to flourish and will eventually squeeze out the illegal trade in elephant tusks altogether.
"The large quantities of mammoth tusks imported into Hong Kong, which are mostly sent to the Chinese mainland for carving, probably reduce demand for elephant ivory from Africa," the report, in 'Pachyderm', a specialist journal, concluded.
"This may in the long run lower elephant ivory prices and reduce incentives to poach elephants."
The most famous mammoth find was made in 2007 by a local herdsman, who discovered an entire frozen mammoth calf, which he named Lyuba after his wife. (© Daily Telegraph, London)