Wooly Mammoth Ivory is On the Rise – And It’s Hurting Elephants

Wooly Mammoth Ivory is On the Rise – And It’s Hurting Elephants

Around 30,000 elephants are killed for their tusks by poachers each year. A record 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between the years of 2010 and 2012 alone.  As international and domestic regulatory measures take aim at the illegal sale of ivory, the now-extinct woolly mammoth poses a new threat to the elephant’s plight.

As climate change melts the Siberian permafrost, newly exposed mammoth tusks are collected and sold legally as a humane alternative. But the ivory industry is using this to mask the illegal sale of elephant ivory. Bearing close resemblance to mammoth ivory, elephant ivory is often marketed as such. Vendors in China will often not distinguish between mammoth or elephant ivory, simply labeling it ivory.

According to the New York Times, China imported more than 27 tons of mammoth ivory in the first six months of 2017, whereas it imported only 4 tons during the same time last year. As long as there is mammoth ivory, there will be ivory laundering and a way to smuggle illegal elephant tusks into the ivory industry.

The domestic and international elephant ivory trade has continued to thrive. In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned international elephant ivory trade — but it wasn’t a total ban, and there are extensive international trade exemptions.

In an attempt to save elephants from extinction, some countries have taken action, increasing their own restrictions on ivory trade. In 2016, the two largest markets for ivory, the United States and China, made commitments for a near-total ban on domestically bought and sold ivory. At the same time, the United Kingdom withdrew its 2015 pledge of a total ivory ban when Theresa May took office due to the antique industry’s lobbying efforts. A new CITES report reveals that the UK was the biggest exporter of ivory to China and Hong Kong from 2010-2015, providing additional illegal laundering opportunities. Although the United States and China have made progress, it isn’t enough.

As long as there is some legal trade allowed, there are loopholes and smuggling that allow the poaching of elephants to persist. For example, in the United States the federal ban only restricts interstate trade, leaving the sale of ivory within states up to the states’ discretion. One state’s ban leads to a surplus of ivory in another state. In addition to this, a lot of illegal ivory is labeled as antique. Not only are the antique classifications very lenient, antiques are exempt from the interstate ban. These loose regulatory measures perpetuate the illicit trade.

In addition to their sheer beauty and majesty, elephants are an integral part of their environment’s biodiversity. Scientists are now debating the genetically engineered recreation of the woolly mammoth with some DNA of an elephant. The aspiration is admirable: save the permafrost, and stop global warming by recreating the ecosystem to combat it. But it’s hard not to imagine that would just be another animal at risk of eventual extinction and poaching. If we truly cared about the environment we wouldn’t be confronted with the possible destruction of elephants at the hands of human beings that’s already staring us right in the face.

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  1. Nina

    All ivory must be ban around the globe. For those who already possess old ivory, they must simply keep it, and not be able to sell it, therefore with a total ban, no more elephants would be killed if ivory cannot be sold. But this would take an effort by every country on our planet.

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  2. Brian Pigeau

    World leaders and all the legal heads of said countries know who is supplying and purchasing the illegal ivory but nothing is ever done about it because the money and power behind these people. Last year China’s president was in Africa and transported tons of illegal ivory back to china in his own jet. Mostly wealthy purchase the ivory trinkets for collection or traditional medicines. The U.S. and China lead in the illegal trade and slaughtering of these beautiful animals. So unless there is seriousness in going after the right people elephants dont have a hope in hell. Corruption is the problem.

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  3. Coreen kerr

    Just how low can these cruel, evil poachers go pretty low I guess just looking at the poor defenseless number of elephants are being killed just for some dam tusks. Disgusting!!

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  4. jan van eck

    The hunting groups that are killing the elephants are professional killers that have gotten their hands on military-grade heavy weapons, rifles for which there is no plausible rationale for retail possession – other than to kill elephants. These hunting groups di this with impunity because they can – there is no effective penalty. Realistically, the only effective penalty is death. So, brutal as it sounds, society needs a two-pronged approach: death by public hanging for the captured killers, and field death by sniper shot for those spotted out in the field. And that approach is to send military sniper teams in training out into the field to hunt down and kill the elephant killers. Watching your group members being “picked off” by anonymous shots from nowhere should be a major stimulus to the remaining killers to get out of that line of work. Nothing like the prospect of death to refresh and focus the mind.

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    • merthyr stevens

      Jan, your solution is the ONLY way to do it, but where are the military sniper teams going to come from? For something this vast we’d need coordinators and dedicated marksmen etc…..but you do sound very knowledgeable, perhaps you already know of some ‘raring to go’ ex-military who would be only too happy to bring your solution to fruition. They’d be needed in Asia too……it would probably be a logistical nightmare, but where there’s a will……..
      I hope so!! Bless you.

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  5. Carol Sedlak

    I can’t say how many petitions I sign to stop killing elephants and it still goes on!
    CITES is no help at all by banning one year and lifting the ban the next.
    Doesn’t anyone understand – no animals will be around anymore if the killing doesn’t STOP! Get rid of the loopholes-dont lift the bans and protect these creatures! All animals serve a purpose. It is important for them to be here! Do something to these murderers
    that will stick!!!!!!!!

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  6. Lisa


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  7. MS

    Horrific, shameful, depraved indifference to the suffering of these magnificent, vulnerable, innocent elephants — this cowardly greed MUST END — it’s beyond cruel & unconscionable! — Catch the idiot-poachers & jail them for a very long time with hefty penalties — this is the only way to get the positive results we’re all seeking — put the monster-poachers AWAY, off the streets (if you will) —AND, save our beautiful elephants who have every RIGHT to live.

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  8. Ellen

    I think it is time to kill off the elephant killers. Greed will never become enlightened. These people obviously will not stop. Countries build armies to protect themselves and send people off to war for greed and dominance. Why would it be so wrong to build an army to protect the innocent? Wasn’t that the original purpose for an army in the first place?

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