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Mammoth Tusk Hunting, The Legal Ivory Trade In Ancient Tusks

Updated on December 14, 2015

The almost world wide ban on ivory products was imposed in 1990. Since then, governments and poachers have used various underhand methods to buy and sell elephant ivory on the open markets.

Mastodon / Mammoth tusks are not illegal and can be traded around the world to the highest bidder.

The massive tusks from these ancient mammals can spiral to over 13 feet in length. A mammoth tusk weighing 150 lbs can sell for over $60,000, legally without restrictions.

The tusks are coming to light as global warming recedes the Earths permafrost, revealing the remains of prehistoric creatures. As the seas rise, buried tusks are being revealed as the shoreline erodes away.

A tusk hunter digs out tusks from the receding shoreline.
A tusk hunter digs out tusks from the receding shoreline.

A tusk hunter digs our tusks from the shoreline.

Tusk Found In Yukon Territoy, Canada.
Tusk Found In Yukon Territoy, Canada.

Mammoths were said to have evolved from Africa, but crossed to North America whilst the seas were still low across the Bering Strait.

Although mammoths were all over Eurasia, the smaller Northern woolly mammoth is better known than any other breed. Southern mammoths have been found as far South as Kansas.

The Northern Siberian mammoth died off 10,000 years ago and their hard wearing tusks have been preserved in ice and mud for centuries. Some breeds lasted until 3,700 years ago.

In Russia's arctic.tusk hunters are now searching for the tusks which can 'just appear out of the ground' due to fast climate change.

Lake Bustakh, Siberia
Lake Bustakh, Siberia

The harsh Siberian weather prevents many would be hunters from taking on this dangerous quest.

Tusk hunters will don scuba diving equipment and dive into the freezing arctic waters to try to find a mammoth tusk.

Kazachye village on the Yana River is the hub for tusk hunters. From here old Soviet military vehicles, snow mobiles and boats are used to head off in search of the ancient tusks.

The hunters endure temperatures of up to minus 35 degrees and live in primitive huts built from what they can find on the land.

Frostbite and death has taken many hunters in their quest to provide a living for their families.

Mammoth Tusk Released By The Ice
Mammoth Tusk Released By The Ice

The New Siberian Islands are the ultimate hunting ground. The islands have not been scoured as much compared to the rest of Siberia.

Getting to these islands is dangerous as the hunters need to navigate a 35 mile ice bridge in Spring. They then need to stay there for six months until the sea freezes over again for the return trip.

A hunter may spend days digging at the same tusk, without leaving the tusk alone. If he goes away from the tusk, even for a few minutes, another hunter may make a claim on the tusk.

Almost every site where a tusk has been found is secretive to the hunter. Giving away information on where tusks may be reduces the chance of finding more tusks for the hunter.

South Korean scientists are using some of the tusks to try and extract DNA to bring the mammoths back fro the dead.

Mammoth Skull
Mammoth Skull

China is the biggest market for ivory. Many of the mammoth tusks will end up in China for decorative pieces or crushed for medicinal purposes.

Recently a hand carved ivory tusk with a scene depicting village life sold for $1.1 million. The creator took over two years to make his creation working up to 18 hours a day.

The illegal trade in ivory is a growing concern for every nation. The African and Asian elephants Delcine is due to poachers who supply the illegal trade in China.


There are certain regulations and restrictions governing the purchasing and selling of ivory. Once imported in several countries, it is legal to buy and sell within that country.

The web address below explains in detail the laws regarding the import and export of ivory, and what permits are required.


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    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 4 years ago

      what an interesting topic! thanks for sharing this awesome info with us :-) upvoted and sharing