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Ancient find in Siberia poses threat to elephants

lundi 27 septembre 2010

IT could be the nearest the world gets to guilt-free ivory.

As the Siberian tundra melts, thousands of dead mammoths are emerging from the slush — with perfectly preserved tusks.

Russians are harvesting about 60 tonnes of ivory from them a year, says a new study. It suggests the amount of mammoth ivory entering the global market now exceeds that from elephants.

The burgeoning trade in woolly mammoth ivory has raised concerns over its effect on elephants. Conservationists fear it could allow illegal elephant ivory to be passed off as coming from mammoths.

Russian entrepreneurs use light aircraft to scour the tundra for mammoth bones.

"Every year from mid-June, when the tundra melts, until mid-September, hundreds of people search the tundra in northern Siberia looking for mammoth tusks," said Esmond Martin, author of the report.

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Mammoths evolved about 4.8 million years ago and roamed the forests and plains that once covered Siberia. They were also found in Africa and North America. In Europe, they were prey for humans, who probably helped to drive them to extinction. The last mammoths are thought to have died out about 3600 years ago.

The Siberian tundra still conceals the frozen remains of an estimated 150 million mammoths, buried at depths of up to 1000m.

Dr Martin carried out the research by Care for the Wild, a conservation charity. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has published his findings in the journal Pachyderm.

Dr Martin said the greatest risk lies in mammoth ivory being exported to Africa, where shipments could be mingled with tusks from elephants.

Mark Jones, of Care for the Wild, said : "The hope must be that this mammoth ivory will reduce demand but it is changing the whole market and we need to monitor it."

The Sunday Times September 27, 2010

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