IN SIBERIA : Chinese demand for prehistoric tusks fuels ''mammoth rush''.

CROUCHING near a wooden shed in his snowy backyard, Prokopy Nogovitsyn lifts up a grey tarpaulin and takes out a vertebra the size of a saucer, part of a mammoth skeleton.

''Some friends found this in the north and wanted to sell it,'' says Nagovitsyn, who lives in a village in the northern Siberian region of Yakutia. ''But it lacks tusks, so nobody wanted it.''

Mammoth bones are widespread in Yakutia, an enormous region bordering the Arctic Ocean covered by permafrost, which acts as a giant freezer for prehistoric fauna.

But over the last few years this part of the world has experienced something of a mammoth rush : after China banned the import and sale of elephant ivory, its traditional carvers turned to the tusks of the elephant's long-extinct ancestors.

Russian exports amounted to 72 tonnes in 2017, with over 80 percent going to China.

Some Chinese buyers come to Yakutia to but tusks directly while some Russians also export them. 

THOUSANDS OF woolly mammoths roamed the Pleistocene-era steppe tens of thousands of years ago and their remains are preserved in Yakutia's permafrost.

Authorities estimate that 500,000 tonnes of mammoth tusks known as ''ice ivory'' - are buried here.

Local hunters and fishermen have long picked up mammoth bones  along river banks and sea coasts but prices dramatically increased over the last decade, leading fortune seekers on arduous Arctic quests.

The new industry has created a new source of revenue, and led to an increase in paleontological discoveries.

While tusk hunters can obtain licenses, the trade is till not fully regulated and some complain of pressure from the authorities and confiscation of their finds

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on prehistoric tusks continues.


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