Wooly mammoths frozen in permafrost since the ice age could provide collectors with a new source for ivory. This comes as game wardens continue to struggle to protect elephant populations from illegal poaching.
Here's what we know
According to Agence France Presse, authorities estimate that there could be roughly 500,000 metric tonnes of mammoth tusks scattered throughout Siberia. This ivory can sell in China for more than $1,000 a kilogram, putting the potential value of the trove up around half a billion dollars. Locals have known about these bones for years, but a growing ivory market has led to a so-called "mammoth rush." The sale of these tusks to China has become particularly lucrative since the Chinese government has banned the sale of elephant ivory.
Aisen Nikolayev, the governor of the Siberian region of Yakutia, has praised the practice as being great for elephants. "Our dead bones are saving living elephants," he said. "Being able to gather them is important both for us and for Africa."
While critics have expressed concern about the rush damaging mammoth remains, paleontologist Valery Plotnikov argued that it could actually help researchers who may not otherwise be able to afford specimens. "We have a symbiosis with licensed collectors," he told the AFP.