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Woolly Mammoths Are Long Gone, But The Hunt For Their Ivory Tusks Lives On

Last year, China criminialized a sale of blurb elephant ivory to stop poaching. That’s when seductiveness in ancient, buried downy huge tusks boomed.

Amos Chapple/RFE/RL


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Amos Chapple/RFE/RL

Last year, China criminialized a sale of blurb elephant ivory to stop poaching. That’s when seductiveness in ancient, buried downy huge tusks boomed.

Amos Chapple/RFE/RL

As a surrogate for desired elephant ivory, huge tusks can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A rush is underway to puncture them out of a solidified earth in Siberia and sell them, mostly to China. The hunt is creation millionaires of some organisation vital in this bankrupt segment — though it’s also illegal.

Photographer Amos Chapple followed a organisation of spike hunters in Siberia on assignment for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He removed his three-week tour with NPR’s Ailsa Chang.

This talk has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

On saying his initial tusk

I saw only one beautiful instance of a spike that came out of a belligerent right in front of me — it was still, like, cold to a hold when it came out. It weighed about [135 pounds] and it was curled. You know, huge tusks are unequivocally distinctive, since they’re unequivocally curly. … They encircle a small bit. And we can still smell a animal in them as well.

On how these tusks are excavated

The reason that Siberia is such a mecca for huge spike sport is since of a permafrost. So there were mammoths everywhere, and they died and their skeleton sank into a earth, though in many places they rotted since a dirt is warm. But once they close into a permafrost they can only be there roughly indefinitely — a skeleton only don’t spoil inside that permafrost.

So we need to carve divided that permafrost. And a process that they’ve grown is to get firefighting pumps, and they lift H2O out of a circuitously river, and afterwards they blast away. …

Once they see a finish of a tusk, they’ll only give it a small wiggle, and afterwards blast it some more, give it another wiggle, and eventually it’ll come out. It’s like extracting a tooth.

Tusk sport causes erosion along a edges of a hill.

Amos Chapple/RFE/RL


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Amos Chapple/RFE/RL

Tusk sport causes erosion along a edges of a hill.

Amos Chapple/RFE/RL

On what a mine does to a environment

They would lift H2O out from a rivers, they’d blast it into a hillside, and those hillsides would effectively warp behind into a river. And so a rivers were totally full of silt. It should be one of a many primitive places on Earth, and these guys didn’t even worry holding fishing rods, since a fish were gone.

On a “pretty miserable” sport conditions

The mosquitoes: that was what done life really, unequivocally horrible. … we remember one day we was perplexing to cranky one of these streams when we fell in, and we sat on a bank and we took off one of my gumboots and attempted to squeegee out my sock. And a impulse we did that, all these black mosquitoes descended on my white, white feet and a contrariety was only so superb. …

I took a integrate of cinema and afterwards we put my hosiery behind on, and afterwards we limped and whimpered my approach towards a stream — and we remember meditative we would compensate hundreds of dollars right now to be means to thrust my feet into icy, cold water.

Morning Edition producer Alyssa Edes (@alyssaedes) contributed to this story.