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Scientists ask legislators to allow export of 3-meter mammoth tusks from Yakutia

The current regulations ban export of mammoth tusks longer than three meters, and scientists fear they will be short of material for studies, as tusks, presented for examination before being exported, are the basis of their work

YAKUTSK, June 22. /TASS/. Yakutia’s Academy of Sciences asked the Russian Ministry of Culture to review the regulations of cultural property’s examination, which came into force from January 1, 2021. The current regulations ban export of mammoth tusks longer than three meters, and scientists fear they will be short of material for studies, as tusks, presented for examination before being exported, are the basis of their work, Academician Albert Protopopov told TASS.

Mammoth tusks export is regulated by laws on import and export of cultural values. The main regulator is the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Culture. Scientists examine all tusks intended for export. In 2020, Yakutia’s experts at the Academy of Sciences analyzed 30 tonnes. However, the new regulations outlaw export of tusks, which are longer than three meters.

"We know, that every year about 200 such tusks are found in Yakutia. And we fear the hunters will simply cut them. Previously, scientists could analyze at least some tusks, and we could register certain morphology and metric parameters. With the new regulations we may not even see a certain share of found tusks," the scientist said.

The new regulations will cause illegal trafficking and crime in the sector. "Both trafficking and cutting of tusks are crimes," the expert said. "We suggest increasing the size parameter to four meters: such tusks are rare, they are found not even every year. Another option is to buy such tusks, say, every year or every other year".

By studying tusks, which are planned for export, scientists collect data on age and sex in mammoth populations. The studies require big statistical data, and the new regulations may cut this option. The experts have filed their suggestions to Yakutia’s government and to the national Ministry of Culture, he added.

Tusk production

According to Yakutia’s Ministry of Industry and Geology, Russia’s 80% of tusk resources are located in Yakutia. The annual production is above 100 tonnes, and the total value is more than 600 million rubles ($8.3 million). The production continues in the region’s eleven Arctic districts. As of 2020, Yakutia had 110 companies, which worked under 695 licenses to collect mammoth tusks and remains of the mammoth fauna.

Notably, the expert continued, almost all findings of special value for the sciences had been made by local residents - hunters, fishers and those who collect tusks. A new tusk hunting season in Yakutia just begins. "How the new regulations will work - we will learn in autumn," the scientist said.

The tusk collection process is regulated only by Yakutia’s law, adopted in 2005. However, a group of State Duma deputies together with the regional government has drafted a bill on amendments to the federal law On Subsoil. They believe the amendments will legalize collection of crafts materials in the form of paleontological remains, including mammoth tusks, as well as will establish regional control over individuals and businesses engaged in this collection. "In particular, we are talking about transfer of powers [to regulate the industry] to the regions," Protopopov said.

According to him, the amendments will boost positive changes in the sector.

"It will be the first initiative, and the topic will be discussed at the federal level. It is not just a regional problem. It is common for a few northern regions. We hope for a breakthrough and for new-level regulations in the sector of mammoth fauna hunting," the expert said. "Presently, we have many legal lacunas, which may be interpreted in different ways. In other words, with the new law we will have a clear legal base."

Collection regulations

Lawmaking to regulate the "mammoth business" continues at regional levels, too. In May, Yakutia organized a transparent system for collecting and selling the products, the local deputy Vladimir Prokopyev said.

According to the legislator, the locals face bureaucratic problems and chains of intermediaries. "The market is not transparent, it lacks clear rules. Our task is to make sure the locals work legally. All products must be marked and registered. We all know that because of chains of intermediaries, the collectors earn peanuts," he said.

The new law introduces a norm, under which the hunters will report paleontology findings and will present information on marked materials.

"By using the marks, we will make sure the final buyer will be able to trace back all the materials - from the stage of finding to the stage of a piece of jewelry. This is top important, as by these measures we will make the region a leading expert, and all the revenues will go to the regional and municipal budgets," Yakutia’s Minister of Industry and Geology Maxim Tereshchenko said. "The reports and marks will be key approaches to organize a transparent system of cost formation".

The regional lawmakers have been working on the bill jointly with the region’s union of mammoth fauna collectors and with scientists, he added.