When it comes to the species on our planet that are now considered ‘protected’, the number seems to be forever increasing. Birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians, you name it, every single one will contain at least a few protected species (if not hundreds!) Whether they be at threat from climate change or human activity, all of our protected species have at least one thing in common. What is that? Well, that they are all species which are still living. But hang on! Of course they’re living! Surely, that is the point in protecting them? To ensure that the species remains alive! Well exactly. Yet there is one species, who may soon join the long list of protected species, who is a little different to all the others. Despite its extinction 4000 years ago, ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the Mammoth?
I see what you’re thinking. Has the World finally gone mad? Have those in charge of the protection of our planet’s animals rolled out a few barrels and flew away with the fairies? Or is there some elaborate ‘Jurassic Park’ type plan to bring the Mammoth back to life? Not quite. And as the saying goes:
‘Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”- Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’
Unfortunately (or fortunately!) the Mammoth is not to be resurrected and immediately classed as a protected species. No! For although this plan is a simple one, it is also a very serious one. The proposed protection of the Mammoth is actually a clever plan aimed at protecting another species on our Earth. In fact, it is aimed at protecting the Mammoth’s closest living relative. The Elephant.
As most of us are aware, one of the greatest threats that faces our Elephant species is of course the ivory trade, with 30,000-50,000 Elephants being killed for their ivory between the years of 2008 and 2013. Each year the fight against the poaching and trade of these animals is becoming more and more difficult to police, with smugglers constantly thinking up new and innovative ways of disguising their illegal activities. One of these ideas? Using Mammoth tusks to disguise Elephant ivory. So far, this has proved very successful for smugglers and it has encouraged poaching and it is making it exceedingly difficult to enforce those laws that exist against the ivory trade. Where have these Mammoth tusks come from? The melting permafrosts of Siberia, Russia, which have so far revealed 150 million Mammoth carcasses! As a result of these discoveries, approximately 100 tonnes of Mammoth tusk is exported from Russia to China every year.
In 1989, 182 countries signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which agreed to ban the sale and trade of ivory. However, as a species that has been extinct for thousands of years, this protection of course did not apply to Mammoths, providing those in the ivory trade with a way of laundering elephant ivory: by pretending they were remains of Mammoths. Often, elephant ivory is ‘coloured’ so that it is darker and streakier and therefore resembles the tusks of a Mammoth. Unfortunately, it is already a challenge for custom officers to tell the difference between real and fake ivory, so differentiating between elephant and Mammoth task is a step too far.
This is the first time in history that an extinct species has ever been considered for protection status under the CITES agreement. The proposal will be voted on in the CITES meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa from 24 September-5th October.
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