Melting permafrost is yielding a bumper crop of mammoth tusks known as “ice ivory” which are being looted by treasure hunters in order to sell them abroad.
At first glance, it might seem as if more than 1.5 tonnes of tusks seen seized here in the Bikinsky district of the Khabarovsk Territory were ivory from poached elephants, but in fact, the hoard is far more valuable as they are all the tusks of woolly mammoths.
The melting of the frozen landscape that has kept them encased in ice for millennia has led to a rush of looters heading to certain locations in order to grab the valuable items and sell them on the black market.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) confirm that this latest hall involved the seizure of over one and a half tonnes of illegal mammoth tusks hoarded by smugglers in the far eastern region of Khabarovsk.
In a statement obtained by Newsflash, they said: “Officers of the border department of the Federal Security Service of Russia in the Khabarovsk Territory and the Jewish Autonomous Region stopped the illegal circulation of paleontological remains of mammoth fauna.”
The tusks were being kept under a wooden floor in a non-residential building and were packed in polypropylene bags, according to officials.
The FSB noted that the people keeping the tusks were unable to provide documentation proving that they had been legally acquired.
The agency estimated the total cost of the find at over RUB 50 million (GBP 427,000) and announced that an investigation had been launched into the smuggling ring.
In April, Russian customs officers seized nearly a tonne of mammoth tusks at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Officials reported at the time that the items were being shipped by a Moscow firm which had designated them as “ornamental material.”
Under Russian law, the export of mammoth tusks is only allowed after a license is obtained from the Culture Ministry.
The head of the company which owned the tusks, valued at around RUB 20 million (GBP 171,000), is now under criminal investigation and could face up to seven years in prison, as well as a fine of up to RUB 1 million (GBP 8,540).
The tusks of woolly mammoths sometimes referred to as ‘ice-ivory’, have seen a spike in circulation over the past two decades as they have become easier to obtain due to the melting Siberian permafrost. They are also not as heavily regulated as elephant ivory.
Russian permafrost refers to the permanently frozen ground, typically found in the northern regions of Russia, where the temperature remains below freezing for at least two consecutive years.
Back in 2019, authorities estimated that up to USD 50 million (GBP 38.6 million) worth of mammoth tusks were being unearthed in Russia’s Yakutia Region every year. Officials have noted, however, that many of the tusks are obtained illegally by smugglers who aim to sell them to Asian markets.