In Bid to Save the Elephants, Israel and Kenya Call for Supervision of Trade in Mammoth Ivory

Supervision would foil smugglers who falsely claim they're dealing in excavated ivory from the beasts that went extinct thousands of years ago

Elephant tusks in France in the possession of the police, 2014.
Reuters

Israel and Kenya have sent a proposal to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species calling for supervision of trade in mammoth ivory – ultimately an effort to protect African and Asian elephants.

The two countries say elephant ivory is being sold as mammoth ivory; this lets traders skirt supervision, posing a serious threat to elephants. Mammoths went extinct 4,000 years ago.

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According to the proposal, presented by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, trade in mammoth ivory would not be totally prohibited but would for the first time be monitored and documented.

There once were five species of mammoths; the huge beasts were close relatives of today’s African and Asian elephants. The species that adapted to cold climates was the woolly mammoth, which had tusks up to five meters long (16 feet) and weighed up to 400 kilograms (882 pounds).

Researchers say that in regions such as Siberia, the skeletons of up to 10 million woolly mammoths are available underground. Mammoths from this region are the main source of ivory trade around the world, thought to meet half the demand for the material in China, the main market for ivory.

In their proposal, Israel and Kenya note that demand for mammoth ivory has grown after the prohibition on trade in elephant ivory was imposed three decades ago. Currently, only India prohibits the import of mammoth ivory.

Since in the rest of the world this trade is legal and does not require documentation, information about its scale is spotty. This buoys smugglers of elephant ivory, who claim they’re dealing in mammoth ivory.

Adding mammoth ivory to the treaty would let it be photographed at airports, certifying that it’s not elephant ivory. This can be done by examining the so-called Schreger lines that adorn ivory.

Signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species are due to send their responses to the proposal by the end of this month.

Some organizations advocate a total ban on trade in mammoth ivory. They say a constant supply drives up demand, giving hunters and traders an incentive to meet the demand with the ivory of African elephants.

Another argument is that the hunt for mammoth ivory in Siberia has severely damaged the environment as would-be traders dig for skeletons.