Woolly mammoths could soon receive legal protection under wildlife and conservation trade rules, despite the fact that they have been extinct for thousands of years.
"This is the first long-extinct animal considered for a restriction in trade," John Scanlon, secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) told the Sunday Times.
The odd move is actually an effort to end the illegal trade of elephant tusks – not mammoth ivory. With climate change melting the Siberian tundra, mammoth bones are being unveiled at an unprecedented rate.
This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that smugglers are trying to pass off illegal elephant tusks as the legal mammoth variety. This has spurred conservationists to rally against the mammoth trade industry, which had previously been considered by many as an ethical alternative to elephant ivory.
However, there are concerns that smugglers are using mammoth ivory as a legal loophole to smuggle poached elephant tusks and falsely claim them as mammoth ivory instead. While the legal protection would be directed at mammoths, the reason is to save the dwindling numbers of their closely related descendants.
"The rise in trade in mammoth ivory poses an indirect threat to elephant populations in the wild by creating a simple way to enable trade in “laundered” elephant ivory," the report states. "Greater control is needed in regard to trading in mammoth ivory in order to prevent it having negative impacts on elephant populations."
Woolly mammoths went extinct around 4,000 years ago. While a few theories abound, it’s possible these large herbivores were felled by the same hand that now threatens modern elephants: humans. According to some estimates, millions of these hairy beasts are now buried beneath Siberia’s permafrost.
The legal protection of mammoth ivory will be discussed next month at the Cites conference.