Mammoth tusk hunters probe permafrost for ‘ethical ivory’

With the sale of elephant tusks under close scrutiny, “ethical ivory” from the extinct woolly mammoth is now feeding an insatiable market in China. This rush on mammoth ivory is luring a fresh breed of miner – the tusker – into the Russian wilderness and creating millionaires in some of the poorest villages of Siberia.

Some tuskers use the excavating power of the pressurized water to bore deep underground. This tunnel runs for over 60 meters.

“When you find a skull, the horn is usually 15 or 20 meters away.”

In warm soil, bones would rot away within a decade. But tusks and bones like this one can survive tens of thousands of years once locked into the permafrost.

Most men here will spend the entire summer away from home and family.

This woolly rhinoceros horn will probably end up in Vietnam and be ground into powder, then marketed as medicine. The 2.4-kilogram horn was sold to an agent for $14,000.

On warm days, some of the men wear clothes more suited to beekeeping than hard labor.

Mosquitoes are a near-constant plague. Only the coldest mornings offer an hour or two of relief.

For most tuskers, a whole summer of labor in the gluey mud will end up losing them money.

This 65-kilogram tusk, photographed a moment after it was plucked from the permafrost, was sold for $34,000. The two men who found it unearthed three more in just over a week, including one weighing 72 kilograms.

To keep his expedition cheap, this young tusker converted the engine from a Soviet-era Buran snowmobile into a water pump.

Ravaged landscape is the obvious result of the tusk hunters’ methods, but the impact on Yakutia’s waterways is far-reaching.

Tuskers use the power of pressurized water to bore deep into the permafrost in search of ivory.

But the number of tuskers across the Yakutia region, which is eight times the size of Germany, is increasing every year. (There were three sites along a 120-kilometer stretch of this river alone.) And as more stories of instant, spectacular wealth filter back to the towns, that trend is likely to continue.

This story with pics was sourced from The New York Post

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Henry Sapiecha

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