Could Protecting Mammoths Save Elephant Populations?

Mammoths look likely to become the first long-extinct species to gain protection under wildlife and conservation trading laws later this month. The species which haven’t walked the Earth for some 4,000 years but could provide essential help in the battle against ivory poaching which is currently decimating elephant populations across Africa.

As the permafrost in Siberia melts it is giving up its secrets; so far 150 million mammoth carcasses have been revealed. That’s a lot of mammoth tusks which can legally enter the ivory market as they have no formal protections on the control of their sale. It is estimated that 100 tonnes of mammoth tusk is exported every year, primarily to the world’s largest ivory market, China.

The ability to move mammoth tusks around freely is giving ivory smugglers an opportunity to get more illegal product into the market. Despite CITES placing strict controls on the sale of ivory in 1989, elephant populations are in the midst of a fresh poaching crisis. The latest data shows that their numbers are dropping by 8% a year and it is likely at that current rate they will be extinct within a few decades.

Smugglers are capitalising on mammoth tusks as a method to get their poached ivory into countries. They will often ship a mixture of mammoth and elephant tusk together, sometimes even colouring the elephant tusks to look more like mammoth. It’s so difficult for customs officers to tell the difference between the two, and mammoth tusks need no documentation to be transported. Thus this process is simply worsening the current crisis.

The rise in the mammoth trade is an indirect threat to elephants but nonetheless a very real one, therefore the move to place controls on the trade of them will be discussed at this months CITES conference. It is hoped that by making it harder to smuggle illegal ivory onto the market, the poaching crisis may be stemmed.

This is a vast U-turn for a product which had previously been considered as the ethical alternative to ivory. It was thought that the introduction of larger amounts of mammoth tusk into the market would create less demand for elephant ivory, yet the demand has not shrunk. It appears that the demand cannot simply be destroyed by providing alternatives as anything that encourages the fashion for ivory proves to be problematic.

“All ivory, even if legally sourced, fuels the ivory trade,” Save the Elephants stated in a campaign.



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