The hunt is on for frozen tusks from the extinct woolly mammoth, and NPR reports that it's making people rich in otherwise poor regions of Siberia.
But it's also taking a devastating toll on the landscape, according to a photographer who embedded with hunters for three weeks. "It should be one of the most pristine places on earth," Amos Chapple tells the news organization, but the tusk hunters' favored technique is changing that.
First, they blast the hills using firefighting pumps that draw water from nearby rivers. "Once they see the end of a tusk, they'll just give it a little wiggle, and then blast it some more, give it another wiggle, and eventually it'll come out. It's like extracting a tooth." Meanwhile, all that newly blasted silt runs back into the river.
Don't expect such hunts to end, however, thanks to a booming international trade that is perfectly legal, reports the BBC. One particularly large stockpile from Russia of more than a ton was seized in China earlier this year, but only because it was improperly declared.
Critics say the tusks, of which some 10 million sets may still be frozen in Arctic tundra, are often sold as elephant tusks, thereby driving demand for ivory and further endangering elephants.
In fact, half the ivory sold in China is thought to be mammoth ivory, the BBC notes. Woolly mammoths were kind of like "prehistoric giant hairy" elephants that got bigger and hairier the further north they migrated, until eventually, around 10,500 years ago, they died out—possibly due to being over-hunted and, per the Christian Science Monitor, "terribly inbred." (Could geneticists bring them back to life?)
This article originally appeared on Newser: People Now Getting Ivory Fix From Woolly Mammoth