Of Mammoths and Men

Post 1789

Of Mammoths and Men

Ancient hunters killed woolly mammoths for their meat. Today in Russia’s Arctic the search is on for their valuable tusks.
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/04/mammoth-tusks/arbugaeva-photography?&utm_source=NatGeocom&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=pom_20130321&utm_campaign=Content

Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

After being frozen for thousands of years in a Siberian riverbed, this pristine mammoth tusk is a financial boon to the hunter who found it.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

A few years ago tusk hunters from the village of Yukagir found this ginger-haired juvenile mammoth, nicknamed Yuka, in an ice cliff. As hunters proliferate, the pace of discoveries is accelerating.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

A tusk hunter scours the coast of Bolshoy Lyakhovskiy Island. Lured by rising prices for mammoth ivory, hundreds of men cross the frozen Arctic seas each spring to search for it along eroding shorelines.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

Vladimir Potapov raises the skull of a prehistoric bison from a pile of assorted bones, including mammoth tusks, outside a makeshift bathhouse near Lake Bustakh.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

Tusk hunters share a meal under a mammoth’s gaze in a cabin near Lake Bustakh. Hunger sets in as rations dwindle near the end of the five-month season. By fall many men will have lost 20 pounds or more.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

The valuable tusks of the mammoth, sketched by tusk hunter Lev Nikolaevich, serve as northern Yakutiya’s economic lifeline.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

Hunters unload tusks on Siberia’s northern coast, where they’ll await transport up the Yana River. A good tusk can support a family through a long winter, but some hunters return empty-handed.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

At the end of summer Yakutiyan men weigh and measure their haul on the shore of northern Siberia’s Lake Bustakh. The tusks will be sold to brokers in the village of Kazachye, where the prices the hunters will get range from $50 to $250 a pound.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

Ruslan Garipov and Petr Vanin dig a mammoth skull out of the tundra on Bolshoy Lyakhovskiy Island. The skull is worth little, but the men hope it will lead them to the pair of tusks it once supported.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

Perching on an outcropping, Nikolay Haritonov scans for tusks on the island’s eroded shore.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

Slava Dolbaev uses a spear to dig out a corkscrewed tusk from a coastal ice cliff. Prying loose a single tusk can take hours, even days. Tusk hunters often leave colored beads or silver jewelry as offerings to local spirits.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

It took Mikhail Milyutin days to remove a specimen from the frozen ground. Of exceptional size, shape, and color, that tusk will fetch thousands of dollars.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

A mud-splattered Milyutin shoulders another tusk dug from coastal cliffs. In the cold and wet, tusk hunters can go weeks without being able to clean or dry their clothes.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

Milyutin gazes at his haul on Bolshoy Lyakhovskiy Island. His hut is camouflaged against the helicopters of the Russian border guards, who last summer ousted dozens of hunters for lacking proper permits.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

The journey from permafrost to market—nearly 90 percent of Siberia’s tusks end up in China—begins by small boat.
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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

An ivory carver in the regional capital of Yakutsk turns a tusk into a parade of miniature mammoths. These decorative pieces will be sold in Russia, but demand in China is far greater—and growing. Prices there can exceed $800 a pound.

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Photograph by Evgenia Arbugaeva

In China the tradition of carving ivory dates back thousands of years. Carvers in this shop in Guangdong Province can spend five years on one piece, which might sell for a million dollars. Dashing hopes, availability of legal mammoth ivory has not reduced demand for illegal elephant ivory.
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