The Ivory Trade’s Mammoth Problem

By Chere Di Boscio

While most animal loving fashionistas would never dream of donning jewellery made form elephant tusks, mammoth ivory unearthed in Russia is causing to concern to many who ask whether there can be such a thing as ‘ethical ivory’.

Each year during the spring thaw, dozens of planes fly over the Siberian tundra in search of the remains of wooly mammoths, whose tusks are still remarkably well preserved. Each year, more mammoth ivory is uncovered than expected, as permafrost recedes increasingly quickly due to climate change.

In fact, there are an estimated 10 million mammoth corpses still yet to be discovered, and every year, Russia exports around 60 million tonnes of mammoth ivory to China alone–by far its biggest market, followed by the USA. Mammoth ivory is now so common in America that First Lady Michelle Obama has been photographed wearing jewellery made from it.

Certainly, it’s a lucrative trade. Mammoth tusks are worth about £320 per kilogram, which is far more expensive than elephant ivory. Beyond the fact that mammoth ivory is a kind of antique, it also has the advantage of being legal, unlike elephant ivory, which is internationally banned by CITIES.mammothivoryWhile some argue that the plethora of mammoth ivory available means there is less of a demand for elephant tusk ivory, the latter is so relatively cheap, that this is still far from the case: why buy legal ivory for hundreds of times the cost of poached material, especially when using it is socially acceptable?

Furthermore, no one apart from experts can really tell whether jewellery made from ivory is mammoth or elephant, so the message being sent by the wearer is that using any kind of ivory adornment is ok. This notion alarms elephant conservationists such as Save the Elephants, whose recent campaign states that  “All ivory, even if legally sourced, fuels the ivory trade.”

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And the ivory trade is booming. Recently, the largest slaughter of elephants in decades took place in Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjidah National Park, an elephant reserve. Poachers wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades slaughtered hundreds of elephants, reminiscent of a similar butchering in 2006 just outside Chad’s Zakouma National Park. The reason? To provide illegal ivory to growing global demand.

India has banned mammoth ivory imports, suggesting that all ivory is harmful to elephants in the long run. When will other countries do the same?

Chere Di Boscio is the Editor in Chief of Eluxe Magazine.