The Mammoth Pirates – In Russia’s Arctic, a New Gold Rush Is Under Way

The Mammoth Pirates – In Russia’s Arctic, a New Gold Rush Is Under Way

MammutPhoto by Phil W Shirley

Some of the poorest villages of Siberia have become places where millionaires live. The China markets are full of elephant tusks which are under close scrutiny. The miners rush into Russian wilderness for mammoth ivory.


This hunt began a few years ago when fantastic sums were paid for mammoth tusks. These hunters use many new methods which are illegal. The number of Siberia’s lost giants is not so many and whatever remains is under the threat of these hunters. A photographer, Amos Chapple, had an incredible access to their world and tried to find out some information from the men of the teams of this chaos.

The ground is unbelievably frozen in Russia’s arctic. It is an excellent environment for preserving extinct woolly mammoth skeletons. Under this frozen grounds the tuskers use pumps to carve huge caverns. They used sharpened sticks some years ago, but they were replaced by these powerful pumps. They are designed just merely for firefighting. Drawing water from the river these pumps fill the valley with exhaust smoke. The caverns are really enormous in their size and when you see the photos, it seems to you that they are not real at all. Other tuskers bore deep undergrounds. The biggest tunnel ever curved there is over 60 meters.

The horns of mammoths are like sodden and moist driftwood. They have a very specific smell, as well.  It smells like wet dog. According to the people from Vietnam, these powdered horns are considered to cure cancer. The tusks and bones of mammoths can survive thousands of years when they are locked into the permafrost. Permafrost is like a great and dirty iceberg and it lies across the whole Yakutia region. If it were a warm soil, the bones would have already rotted away. They usually rot away within a decade in warm soils, so due to this permafrost where they are locked, these bones still exist. 

Nowadays you can find these tuskers mostly in Yakutia region. Yakutia is very large and it is eight times the size of Germany. Being one of the coldest places in the world it welcomes more and more tuskers every year. They spend an entire summer or other seasons searching for mammoths, away from their families. These searches are very difficult because the tuskers go through many incredible phases. Mostly they eat canned beef and noodles. Some tuskers even eat dogs when they run out of food. They confess that they have no other choice and at that fatal moment the flavor of dogs seems to be like becon.

Tusks are considered to be Siberia’s “white gold”. They are very expensive. For example, recently a 65-kilogram tusk was just taken off the permafrost and was sold for $34,000. Though many tuskers don’t want to reveal the exact amount of their triumph, they really earn much. Sure, it’s really risky to leave your life behind, to be away from your family members and go to search for this “gold”. They don’t even know they will come back or not. But don’t forget about charges, too.

Video:Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

There exist a fine for illegal tusk hunting which is $45. But if a tusker is not successful and is caught three times, he will be charged seriously!




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