Nearly a quarter of all exposed land in the Northern Hemisphere is covered by permafrost, but that percentage has been steadily declining in recent years. Scientists can’t agree whether or not global warming is the cause of the melt, but no one can deny that the melt is a boon for Siberian woolly mammoth fossil hunters, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The harsh, frozen tundra of eastern Russia has long enveloped the mammoth fossils and has not relinquished them easily in the past. However, reports show that 50 tons of mammoth bones have been found every year in Russia — and that number continues to grow.
It’s ironic that the suspected cause of the woolly mammoth’s extinction is also the most likely cause of its fossil discovery — global warming.
Mammoth bone hunters, or those who “mamontit” or seek the bones, are glad to have them. And the fact that the increased yield coincides with recent bans on elephant ivory doesn’t hurt. In fact, entire villages are surviving on the trade of mammoth bones. But with high yield comes high demand, which unfortunately leads to increased competition.
The L.A. Times’ article says, “‘People used to just come across bones and throw them aside or take them to the garbage, because they were not interested in them,’ said Gennady Tatarinov, who oversees a reindeer farm in Anyuisk, a frigid village 4,000 miles northeast of Moscow. ... But now there's a big demand, and of course there's a lot of competition, and people who make it their main trade."
Several global economic factors have driven the price of mammoth bones down from $700 to $200 per kilogram (roughly 2.2 pounds), so deriving sole income from the trade is becoming more difficult. If you do the math, the mammoth bone trade is still a $10 million a year industry — even at the drastically reduced cost per kilo.
The unearthing of mammoth bones is “the highest it's ever been," according to Fyodor Shidlovsky, head of the National Alliance, a network of search groups, coastal exploration bases, restoration workrooms and carving shops. Shidlovsky spends June through late fall in Siberia searching for mammoth bones. During the remaining months of the year he presides over an Ice Age museum in Moscow.
Fyodor Romanenko, a geologist at The University of Moscow, told the L.A. Times, "It used to be when we found bones we'd donate them to museums for displays and samples. Now we register them, get the carbon date and give them as gifts. They make good souvenirs … Mammoths are considered a national treasure of Russia."