Photographer Captures "Tuskers" Hunting Mammoth Remains In Siberia

Amos Chapple/RFE/RL

A photographer has taken a trip into the Russian wilderness to search for the remains of mammoths – with rather startling photographic results.

Amos Chapple documented his trip last year on his website, where he headed into the heart of Siberia with a group of local hunters known as tuskers to track down some of these ancient beasts.

Mammoths are thought to have thrived in Siberia until about 12,000 years ago, when a warming climate killed them off. But many remnants of the creatures remain – and some people will pay a high price for them.

The practice is controversial. The tuskers use damaging methods to find hidden bones, firing jets of water into cliffs at high pressure. This sends a slurry of water and earth into nearby rivers, causing rising silt levels. As such, the tuskers are regularly hunted by environmental officers.

“The collection of mammoth tusks is legal in Siberia, but the hydraulic mining method these men are using is illegal,” Chapple told IFLScience. “The penalty if you're caught once and twice is a 1,000 rouble ($17) fine. If you're caught a third time it will result in a court case, and penalties can be serious. Basically you're free to wander around or poke at the ground with sticks in the hunt for tusks, but due to the damage done, hydraulic mining is illegal.”

“I know it’s bad, but what can I do?” one tusker told Chapple. “No work, lots of kids.”

The tusks can weigh up to 72 kilograms (159 pounds) or more, with one being sold for $34,000. And it’s not just tusks up for grabs, either. Rhino skulls and horns can also be found, with a 2.4-kilogram (5.3-pound) woolly rhinoceros horn fetching $14,000.

Many of the tuskers are unsuccessful, though. Only about 20 to 30 percent find anything of value. Chapple's tale describes some of the harrowing moments they go through to try and make a living via this unusual method. Some, ultimately, return home empty-handed, while others strike it lucky.

Check out some of Chapple’s photos below and read his full story here.

All photos used with permission

Amos Chapple/RFE/RL
Amos Chapple/RFE/RL
Amos Chapple/RFE/RL
Amos Chapple/RFE/RL
Amos Chapple/RFE/RL



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