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Ban on Elephant Ivory Increases Popularity of Fossils

A 15-year ban on the sale of ivory from illegally slaughtered elephants has boosted the popularity of fossil ivory. The ancient tusks of wooly mammoths, elephant-like creatures that lived between 20,000 and 5,000 years ago, have been recovered from sandbars near the Arctic Ocean, where they’d been carried by the Siberian tundra’s melting waters.

Mammoth ivory is the only raw ivory that can be sold legally. According to Pierre Pare, who sells both restored mammoth tusks and mammoth ivory-laden jewelry, “It’s a good alternative to modern ivory, and it’s not going to endanger any species.” (Washington Post, October 2004)

But Guy Gugliotta, staff writer for the Washington Post, points out, “The substitution of mammoth ivory for elephant ivory presents an unusual example of how one limited resource could lead to the uncontrolled exploitation of another. (Washington Post, October 2004) Without regulations, it’s possible that the harvesting of mammoth tusks could destroy future specimens.

Despite the 1989 ban on elephant ivory, illegal markets continue to thrive. Approximately 4,000 to 12,000 elephants are killed each year to support ivory trade.

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