An Interview by Karl Ammann –
S : Shidlovsky
A : Ammann
S: You should have sent me questions.
A: You are an expert, I did not consider it necessary to send them.
S: Well, sometimes the questions are very naive.
A: The director needs more details on how the mammoth business works. How is the trade in mammoth tusks organized?
S: Actually, this is a very difficult question and a very long one.
A: Well, speaking shortly and to the point?
S: I can’t even imagine how to be short. Because over the past 30 years, in general, these things have happened differently. They change over time, they change with the state of China, they change with the state of our customs, with solving problems with illegal trade. Unfortunately, today, let’s say so, from one side we have people who are above board, and the others who are not, however trivial it may seem. Today, large quantities are being sold illegally. And seizures happen rarely, only because of some mistakes or due to a misunderstanding connected with the fact that someone didn’t pay enough money to someone else. As for the small quantities, it’s maybe because some people decided to save on something, I don’t know. Because today legal registration costs exorbitant amount of money. While sending not above board, through the payment of bribes to customs officers, border guards somewhere on the border… it costs absolutely nothing. It is a saving principle “ the cheaper the better” … I will tell you one story. You’re recording, right?
The truck usually went through Kazakhstan, before the Customs Union was set up, for 15 thousand Rubbles. Without being opened. And one person paid 20 thousand rubbles. He was killed. Because he began to spoil all these regulatory and fiscal authorities. Someone just killed him. Because of the attempt to raise the current price, which was good to everyone. And suddenly someone broke a few barriers. The same with these smugglers who want, let’s say, to save more. Those who violate the order established by several individuals who regularly do this are the ones who are being framed. On the other hand, we should understand whether it is legal to gather mammoth tusks, or not. It can hardly be called extraction. It is gathering of mammoth tusk. And it is all done through «gray» schemes as well. The license is not received by the person who collects the tusks, but by the person who was able to obtain this license. As a rule, these people belong either to the criminal segment, or, for example, it is a big official who is trying to take part in the slicing-up of the profits with his money. And so it turns out that all the people who do the gathering there, they do it illegally. But, on the other hand, there is a concept of power of attorney, right? You have a license, and you delegate it. And nobody checks.
In fact, the law in Russia is good. And once I was against this law. But delving into it, I realized that this is the only law that could work normally at that moment, in those years and now. The most important thing is the execution of laws. When the law is not controlled and not enforced, therefore this whole story arises. Actually, I would like to say that the mammoth’s tusk itself is law-abiding, you see? So today, thanks to this amazing material, can replace this surprisingly good organic ornamental material like the elephant’s tusk. And this replacement, in fact, plays a very noble role. Today the annual gathering of mammoth tusk is approximately equal to the annual demand for this amazing material. It has pros and cons compared to elephant ivory. It’s bigger, you can do more serious things out of it. On the other hand, having been more than a dozen thousand years underground, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of years, this material is over-humidified and needs a special technology for its drying. So that it does not crack, not get damaged, or warped. We know it thanks to years of experience. Once you found the tusks, do not rush. Do not start to carve it. But you should first remove moisture that is in it, and this moisture must be removed at a certain speed. If you increase this speed, if you hurry, a concentration stress inside the material arises, which leads to fracturing.
A: Let’s go back to the licenses.
S: Let’s do that, then you will choose the episodes you need, you will edit.
A: Do you have numbers, how many licenses are distributed per year, for example, in 2018, and who issues them?
S: I’ll tell you about all of this now. In general, as I said, there is a law. This law provides for the right or a procedure for issuing licenses. In fact, it is very democratic, and in principle, when applying for licenses, there are several coordinating structures. Including the authorities of the area where you are going to carry out this activity. As a rule, it all depends on the head of the region. There were periods in Yakutia, when no licenses were issued to anyone, there were periods when, on the contrary, there was such a mess that everyone was given out in a row. Except to those who lived outside the region. There was a certain degree of nationalism, in the sense that if you are not from here – you are an outsider and so on. Here is the order. That is, the order exists. Everything is done, but everything depends on people. Oddly enough, the law is read by people in different ways, in different regions. I am informed about every region where gathering of mammoth tusks takes place even in small quantities. I want to say that the most law-abiding, fully complying with federal law is Chukotka. There is utter disinterest whether who you are, do you have links, or not and so on. It means that every person who came, filled an application, in any case it is being considered, in any case the terms of the license agreement are being discussed. And in return, they usually ask to get a percentage of the material, well, no more than 15, or ask to participate in the cultural program of the region. For example, some kind of support program to the museums that are there, like donating exhibits, or other contribution.
What’s happening today? Today, at least, we see that a lot of licenses are issued. Why so many of them are issued? The fact is that someone decided to allow 500 kilograms per licence. Not five tons. But there are brigades that work on the coast of the East Siberian Sea, the Laptev Sea, where you can collect, say, tons. No no no.
One day, I had such a whim, I wanted to extract 5 tons in one area, I needed to get 10 licenses. Each license requires such a stack of papers. It turned out a pile, which was my height. What is it for? Well, this is what some individuals who have been placed in a bureaucratic rank think appropriate. But again, Russia is an amazing country. If we compare it with the West, with some countries of the advanced economy, it is impossible to understand. We have neither liberalism, but an attempt to make it, we have neither dictatorship, nor a totalitarian regime, and nevertheless, it is felt. This is such a paradox. And we are not Asian at the same time. That is such a complex conglomerate. Therefore, I say, the only thing in our country is not being implemented – this is the law itself. And the law is good, in all respects. But the law on the ground is spoiled and interpreted in the way that any particular influential nobleman wants.
A: And the license itself is issued in the regions?
S: That’s right, the federal law provides that there are regional authorities, there are structures under regional authorities. For example, we have the Ministry of Natural Resources, and there we have, so to speak, its regional structures. Including ministries, departments, and much more. So to speak, this man, who heads the regional department of natural resources, always has two powers. He must simultaneously submit to the leadership of Moscow and at the same time to the regional authorities.
And here comes the very difficulty. If the regime is totalitarian within the region, then he has to obey more the head of the region than, say, the federal government. And this all leads to whatever you want: from instructions, orders of the head of the region, and it becomes absurd. If today we are talking about Yakutia, as the main region where the material is gathered … And I want just to say that today there is not a single serious specialist in this field in the Government, in the Administration of this region, in all of these substructures of the federal ministries. No one is interested, no one knows how to do it, everyone is just guessing something. There are no professionals in this matter. And it results in all those different opinions floating around
A: So the person with a license is recruiting people who then gather the material?
S: Yes, but ideally officials should adopt an amendment to a concrete region to allow a simple fisherman, or a simple hunter to keep doing the gathering, because that’s what they usually do. Those men will never pass by a mammoth tusk, if they find one. Everyone knows that it is worth money. And today thanks to the Internet, they even know approximate prices. But they don’t have these rights. There were periods when Yakutia allowed a person to collect 200 kg. But these instructions of the head of the region were not in conformity with the federal law, so it was banned.
In general, now we have got a scheme, according to which there is a person who can get a license, and you don’t pay for it, as you may think. Another question is that there is a discrepancy in the law. In many regions there is a requirement, that holders of licenses after submitting a report for the season, need to pay MET, the tax called the mineral extraction tax. This is illegal. No one has the right to do this. Therefore, they are not allowed to require this payment. There were several lawsuits, and holders of licences won.
A : You mean, that paying the tax is wrong ?
So I want to explain to you that today there is a big debate in the State Duma on how to make amendments to the law that exists. And it aims to rank the mammoth tusk as a mineral and, therefore, pay this 6% tax. But the picture is different. When I found this material, I need to undergo the expertise of the Ministry of Culture that it does not have cultural value – that’s what today’s law says. So, before export, I have to pay a 10% tax to the Ministry of Culture. In fact, you don’t have to pay to do the gathering, but at the end, you will have to prove the ownership of the tusks, and this is the most important thing that few people know. So, you need to have an evidence basis of ownership. This requires both licenses and veterinary certificates, this requires a report that few people know either. Licenses are issued, but reports are not collected. Each time it is very easy to get a license for three years, and then if you are a very law-abiding citizen, sometimes after getting a few three-year licenses you will be given five-year one. As for me, I get five-year licenses. So, if you didn’t submit a report once, they have the right to deprive you of this license. But no one will take it away from you, will not return it, so you can exchange it, distribute it and so on. As if it was not cancelled, no one transport policeman would check it in the database.
The second thing, is that the authorities simply will not notice this. If you don’t submit reports, only at the point of issuing a renewal, they will ask you – why, you don’t hand in reports. The report is the most serious thing that can be. So, licenses in Yakutia are issued, and reports are practically not received. Or they are too ephemeral and don’t correspond at all. Let’s say, they gave him a license for 500 kg, and a man collected bought 2.5 tons. You should understand the important thing that the person who has bought a license does not collect mammoth tusks, they buy it from the local population, which does not have licenses. Therefore, you can dictate your conditions to them. What are the conditions? Naturally, the stranger will not come there, he will never be allowed to work there. And the criminal structure can put pressure and take it for nothing, or borrow, and then say that the cargo was arrested, which also happens from time to time, and thus the person who found this material did not receive anything at all. Therefore, for at least these 25 years, I was suggesting several times to the administrations of these regions what could be done, say, to organize a reception centre on the ground in order to avoid those things, and many many other ideas. Nothing is done. Not because they do not like me or do not want to listen to a non-resident, to people from other regions. It’s just that they have no time to do it. Well, this is such a trifle …
I once said to Sergey Yastrzhembskiy that having read all the articles about this business, one would think that it’s as profitable as drug business, but of course it’s not true. Today, those who collect this material, if it is not accidentally found by a fisherman or a hunter, but a planned expedition was organized, it costs a lot of money that not everyone can spend. This money also requires good luck. I always try to compare this with gold mining in Alaska. There was a lot of talks, Jack London enlightened us, and in fact, no one represents that of every hundred gold miners who went there, only one really earned money. Imagine? Only one of a hundred. All the rest went bankrupt. So, I have such a beautiful story that someone told me that there is such a mysterious river in Yakutia – Chukchi, and 47 adventurers, tusks hunters went there. And only one man returned with tusks. It was in front of my eyes, rest his soul, unfortunately, he is no longer alive.
A: Tell me, are more tusks being found because of the defrosting of the tundra?
S: It’s a very good question. First, I just want to tell you about the phenomena of contemporary fashions, particularly in the media, about global warming. This is also a game. I will openly say that today all advanced countries, mainly in the northern hemisphere, allocate $16.5 billion to study this phenomenon every year. Do you understand how difficult it is for a scientist to be objective? On one hand, if he says that there is no global warming, he will lose his job. Therefore, even a scientist cannot be objective.
But now I will tell you highly significant figures. In fact, there are about 40 cycles of warming and cooling, thus, climate change on Earth. One of them is the most influential, it is called the Gulf Stream. This 400-year cycle starts when it becomes so warm in the Arctic that the cold Labrador Current warms up a little and rises from the lower layers of the Atlantic upwards and blocks the way of the Gulf Stream. Less heat enters the Arctic, the Arctic begins to cool, again the Labrador has cooled, fell below, again the heat has gone to the Arctic through the Gulf Stream.
So, the figures are the following: if there is 7 million square km of non-melting ice in the Arctic, then it is the warmest time, and if 11 million, then it is the coldest. And today we have already seen this peak of the minimum amount of non-melting ice – 7 million. Definitely today it is 7 million 200 thousand square km, today the increase of the sea level has stopped. We should wait, I will say, not an even cooling of the climate, but we should expect an increase in the sharply continental climate. Therefore, if we talk about the extraction or gathering of such material, then there are also several strong factors. In fact, the level of the World Ocean has a role, but not very significant. The presence of westerly and northwesterly winds, which blow from the ocean to the coast and destroy its outwash plain, plays a much stronger role. Increased rainy days in summer, increased precipitation is very important. These are other cycles, that happen once in 20 years.
Floods are much more important, and, conversely, droughts, when the level of rivers is minimal. Thus, more land is exposed and, thus, we can find more tusks. On the other hand, the flood itself actively destroys the rock, and while there is water, you don’t see the material, but it is exposed.
Therefore, to answer your question, the long-standing practice has shown that, in general, if you have a large survey area, then the quantity of tusks being found is quite the same every year. The numbers are surprisingly the same, as follows: throughout the year around 500 tons of paleontological material is getting exposed, but due to the lack of civilization in the area and the low number of population, only 50 tons are collected.
A: Are more miners out there trying to find mammoth ivory?
S: A very good question, it seems to me that a person who wrote those questions is a good thinker. At first, of course, 20 years ago they were not so numerous. Today, thanks to documentary films, or pseudo-documentary films, thanks to the Internet there are lots of adventurers, in a good sense of the word. And most often, these adventurers, they are cheating, say, a rich person or a banker, or they all ask for a loan: you invest in our project, and we will bring back tons of tusks. In fact, they even know where to turn it in, of course not to these people, from whom they took the money, but to others — to get some more income and run away. There is an inconstancy of the number of enterprises; every time after the end of the season, the number of enterprises change, some collapse, new LLCs are formed, right? Or new sole traders appear. And in fact, people who have dedicated their lives to this business, they do not leave the market, the mining market or the buying market. As a rule, these people stay.
And now these adventurers who are trying to grab a cup of tea with the locals, in fact, they get so hard repulse that recently the number of random people, I would call them so in this kind of activity, in this kind of folk art, has decreased. Because the history of the mammoth business is very rich. After all, at least in Yakutia, it is about 400 years old. Since 1632, when the first Russian Cossacks came to the North, the tusk becomes a good. Along with soft junk, with furs and so on. And according to history, the Chinese came over the tusk in the first century and, at least, there is documented evidence – in the 11th century, so the material was exported to China. But since the 17th century, the UK became a big buyer of tusks.
A : It’s time to discuss export questions now. How many intermediary traders are they before the tusks reach the exporter?
S: You see, there are people who find tusks accidentally, I talked about them. Believe it or not, but, as a rule, almost a half of all gathered tusks are found by people accidentally. It is not accidental from the point of view of activities on the ground, but from the point of view that they have nothing to do with this export or with licensing. They are fishermen, hunters, geologists, and in general people who are engaged in eco-tourism. There are such people. And suddenly they find it. Naturally, they want to get rid of it, for example, to justify some of their activities, to repay material costs.
Then, they try to reach the right people. In every district, in every village, you can find intermediary traders in the first stage. Who are they? As a rule, these are medium-sized businessmen, who have shops, a constant revenue, who sell goods. At this moment, because a person should eat bread every day, buy a sausage, something else. And one finds this tusk. And he has nothing, but he wants to celebrate his birthday, to buy sweets for children. Of course, he carries this tusk to the store. And everyone knows how much it costs. And even this hunter knows, because he also has a computer, the Internet. And, as a rule, on the Internet, the prices are even more exorbitant. But, realizing that he could not sell it anywhere, but, most importantly, he could not load him onto a plane without documents, otherwise officials would start shaking him, the transport police could confiscate everything.
Finally, he gives the tusk to the first intermediary trader. And usually that’s him, whom license holders are looking for. They can conclude a verbal agreement. He collected 500 kg, it is the minimal quantity when it makes sense to send a representative of the license holder then to look and evaluate. It’s a simple trade, and sometimes they got a deal, sometimes not. This is a long process. It is the second transfer of goods to the license holder. Then, the third conversation starts with those who are able to take it to the border and send it abroad. Well, probably, this is the minimally short chain, which is sometimes longer.
A: You talked about these incredible prices that appear on the Internet. I would like to hear from you, what is the wholesale price at which tusks are sold in China/Hong Kong?
S: If we look at the price of oil today, we will suddenly find out that 4 years ago, oil was worth far beyond $100, $110, even $120 per barrel. How much does it cost today? $60. But there were moments when it cost 30 and even a little less. For example, in 2016, on New Year’s Eve. And so what? Just imagine, it was four times lower. The same thing happens with the tusk. As soon as it became an object of international trade, as soon as China became part of the world economy, as soon as it became subject to crises, and purchasing power in China dropped …
Tusks they are in excess there, believe me, I know this picture. Each owner of a bone-carving factory has at least three, four, and sometimes a seven-year supply of mammoth tusks. Of course, he no longer wants to buy tusks, if he has a lot of unsold carved products. Do you understand? He even closes the factory, and stops the production – which is done very easily in China. Thus, an excess of supply over demand in the Chinese market arises, and what does this mean? It means that no one wants to buy this tusk. So its price is going down. Sometimes it was going up, in my memory, the highest price was 3 thousand dollars per kilogram. Today, probably, if we talk about a good grade – it is 300 dollars. You see the difference, it is 10 times cheaper nowadays.
And, of course, when the tusk grows in price, everyone takes the risks. Everyone knows that clock is ticking, and this will justify his risks, even if he was cheaped out, or the evaluation of the tusks was not correct, but still he would catch up. Or it can be much worse, that’s what happens now. The owner of the tusk thought that he would get $500 for it. For a good tusk. But nobody took it. A month later they tell him: We buy for $300. And he thinks, well, probably he will make a deal to sell for $400. And then boom! And he couldn’t sell even for $300. This is a tragedy. And the intermediary traders disappear immediately, because they are the first to be exposed to this. In any case, such people who give tusks and do not receive money in return, they are few. So it is very important for the first owner of the tusk to get his money up front. Today, they have been deceived so many times, that they want to see real money, although sometimes tusks are taken by force, or to cover debts. Therefore, now intermediaries are suffering. So, as soon as the price for a tusk goes down, they lose interest, and they switch their activities to fish, meat, everything that can be traded there in Yakutia, to the delivery of dairy products to Yakutia and so on. That is, here the ways are inscrutable.
A: Who are the buyers at the demand end, individuals or large-scale importing companies?
S: Business owners, factories who buy not only for themselves, but also for reselling to their. So, look, as a rule … Today, there are attempts in China to monopolize all this. There are attempts of exchanges to do it. But for now there is none, no monopoly. Most often, we will say, there are competitors. I know the names of people who are engaged in this and that. Sometimes the income from the resale of a mammoth tusk is higher than the income from carving. Sometimes not. It is a living organism, and it lives according to business laws, which exist in general. The mammoth business doesn’t differ from other business activities. Not much different. Therefore, here the laws are all the same.
A: Is any worked mammoth ivory exported from Russia?
S: Unfortunately, the state of bone carving industry in our country is very low. Literally, one can say the lowest in the last 300 years. Even in the era of the Soviet Union, this was all at a high level, even if the borders were closed, but domestic consumption was very high. I will say that today such a country as Norway continues to have a great interest in bone-carving art, and, of course, we will say so, tourists who visited this amazing region with these extreme weather conditions when they come to Yakutia or to another region, to Chukotka, to Taimyr – of course, they want to bring some souvenirs. And they don’t really care that it is a low quality souvenir.
This is how export of worked mammoth ivory products is arranged. Well, how much is it? You will not believe, if I say the figure is 200 kg per year, it will shock you, instead of the 50 tons that we extract. Along with small pieces, there are highly artistic items, the ones that underline the beauty of mammoth’s ivory, high quality, multidimensional, created by experts of the highest level, by masters – those masterpieces are very rare and exclusive. As far as I know, in the regions there is no such craftsman who would sell such exclusive things abroad.
Sometimes jewellers use ivory, adding precious metals, precious stones, to create masterpieces that go to auctions or to private collections. It happens more on an ad hoc basis than systematically. The same applies to me, your humble servant. From time to time I also get such orders. Let’s say, experts from the national museums of China come and buy products from me, but they are very demanding, they are only interested in the technology that they have already forgotten. Unfortunately, in China there are also problems in this art, in this kind of activity. Therefore, we have some carving techniques that Chinese no longer know.
A: What is the total quantity now officially exported and what is the estimated amount of mammoth tusks exported illegally tonnage/percentage?
S: Of course, if we talk about the events from seven years ago, then maybe these figures were in favour of the official exports, which was about 75-80%. Today, this figure is completely the opposite. If we talk about the ownership of the tusks, about the fulfilment of all export conditions that exist, then, to be honest, this is about 10 percent.
A : How much is it in tons?
S: In Russia 50 tons are gathered annually, and only 1 ton is being worked, which is only a 1/50 part. 75% of this ton – it’s worked by my company. The rest goes on simple souvenirs. It turns out that almost 45 tons are exported illegally.
A : Are exports going out by air or by road?
S: When there was a legal export, it was not necessary to use the land border, and then everything went by air cargo. I used three companies: Finnair, KLM and Aeroflot. These are the companies that flew to Hong Kong. It was a free economic zone, and I started this activity back when it belonged to the UK. And so, as soon as the active trading began, the Chinese started to import goods through such points as Blagoveshchensk, Ussuriysk, Belogorsk through the north of China. Smuggling was promoted, criminal structures of these regions got in touch with Yakut criminal structures and the Chinese criminal structures, forming this chain of delivery of mammoth tusks overland.
And I want to say a very important thing, that this chain is still working. We need to know that in Northern China there are no bone-cutting factories. All this raw material moves on, sometimes even from Vladivostok it is shipped to Southern China. This Chinese bone carving art extends from Beijing, to the South and it is common in Shanghai. There are no bone-cutting factories in Northern China. So the main reason are taxes: I pay huge taxes here in Moscow to the Ministry of Culture, China pays big taxes, when they receive my goods, while imported to China, their taxes are even larger than ours, so it all provoked the bloom of this kind of illegal business. As a matter of fact, you know, this is a famous topic. Look at the Prohibition
Acts making the sale of alcohol illegal. They were introduced many times, like in our country under Nicholas the Second, during the economic crisis in the USA; this led to one thing – a surge in illegal activity. So it is the same here – we need a proper law, proportionate taxes, the understanding, that systematic gathering of tusks, not accidental one, is a very expensive business, that it also has fluctuations in price.
But I confess to you that there are no experts in Moscow today, they only know what it is made of and its qualities. There is only one legendary man, Vladimir Ilyich Zhigalo. This is our expert in Ministry of Culture. Well, there are still three or four experts from the Ministry of Natural Resources, who, let’s say so, write conclusions quickly, so carelessly. Whatever the owner wants himself. What for? Well, that is him who pays them money. It means that he will pay them more for the expertise. The correlation is relatively simple.
A: How is border control performed?
S: This is an amateurish question, I don’t like it. Imagine if the material went legally, how could it not be counted. Of course, it is all in computer databases, moreover, everything is taken into consideration, the grade of the ivory, the obligations in foreign trade activity, how much I expect to receive in foreign currency that I will have to sell on the exchange, to convert in Rubbles. This process is elementary, so I think the question is amateurish.
But everything that is illegal, it’s all up to the officials, sometimes it’s recorded. Therefore, today information from customs officers or border guards may be very diverse. But it definitely does not show a picture. And there are even attempts to provide reports, information, to inform some State bodies on demand, but this is a world of fantasies, absolutely.
A: Are the official traders concerned about the introduction of new international rules (CITES), which can tighten the rules of trade?
S: The question is clear, I want to tell you right away, this is the greatest nonsense. The stupidity of those people who absolutely do not understand. I say once again, the gathering of mammoth ivory with the help of some special equipment – this is an extremely rare case. Here is a movie released by Pavel Brykin, it shows that the extraction is done with the help of motor pumps. But there are only four places out of three million square kilometres in Yakutia, only 4 small places where motor pumps are used. There is a guarantee that there is a very high concentration of remains, and there is an opportunity to justify all costs with the help of the pumps. And investments are not paid off sometimes. In fact, I say, if the material is exposed from permafrost as a result of the degradation of permafrost soils, or sometimes it is called permafrost, then it should be collected and carved, because it is a gift of nature. Several years later, if you don’t take it, it will be destroyed by nature … Once removed from the permafrost sarcophagus it gets exposed to natural impact and is quickly destroyed, reduced in grade, and then turned into additional feeding for the animal world.
A: Maybe you didn’t fully understand my question, I meant the problem that under the guise of mammoth tusks, Chinese traders are selling ivory?
S: Listen to me, this is a very important point that I haven’t told anyone yet. And now I will say this, I will open the eyes of many. Look. We are talking about the fact that officially China imported 14 tons of mammoth tusks. But in reality, they’ve got 42 tons. Because the rest of the material, 28 tons, where imported illegally, you know. Then this mammoth ivory was worked and some art objects were made of it. And all the shops wrote that it was mammoth. And this is also known that some elephant ivory is also processed. It turns out that everyone thinks that if China has produced such an amount, then it is made from an elephant ivory. You see? If officially there were only 14 tons of mammoth ivory received, while they produced more than 40 tons of items for export and sale, then everyone thinks that elephant ivory products were sold under the guise of mammoth tusk.
This is the mistake of the international regulatory bodies. In fact, all the items are made of mammoth tusk. The second important point, today there are not so many experts, who may distinguish the mammoth ivory from an elephant ivory, but they exist. They exist. And they work in large customs terminals. These people can definitely say is that an elephant ivory or not. But today, the world community is not satisfied with it, and if we consider the context, that today Russia it is not in favour and stands in opposition to a certain world, and that this business is very profitable, so they are now thinking how to deprive Russia again from one of its activities and impose new restrictions.
This is very important, I want to tell you, this is true. I know this information for sure, I know that it is being considered at UNESCO today in order to simply ban the export of the mammoth’s tusk from our country. And in fact, if we look at it correctly, then, on the contrary, the mammoth tusk saves and protects the elephant’s tusk. That is, when the laws are very harsh for an elephant’s tusk and very soft for a mammoth’s tusk, then it turns out that all manufacturers and factory owners would only work with mammoth’s tusk – it will be more profitable for them to work in the legal field. There will be no more problems, elephant ivory will not be use any more, buyers will not risk whether this elephant ivory was legitimate, whether the elephant died naturally or was killed by poachers for profit.
A: We have a few questions left. How many people in Russia are estimated to make a living out of it?
S: About 1200, 1400 people.
A : Not so many. What is the period of the year in which you search/dig for mammoth tusks?
S: We have a very short summer. A very short period when the temperature is above zero. Permafrost destruction occurs only with the help of water. Therefore, the exposure of the remains of the mammoth fauna occurs only during warm temperatures. This period lasts, let’s say so, from the beginning of June to mid-September. Sometimes it happens that this very short period is even shorter. I once flew to the shore of the East Siberian Sea on July 15, and the sea broke up on August 1, eroding the coast. But on August 1, it began to snow, which did not melt. It turned out there were no summer at all that year.
A : What are the quality level of mammoth ivory besides the weight (whole tusks versus broken pieces) at the supply level from the miner?
S: Well, spell it out for you, it’s a very interesting task. Once I developed, it was I who was the author of the grade of the ivory, in the late 80s I developed a 4-grade system: first, second, third grade and broken pieces. Debris. Then the Chinese introduced the so-called 9-grade system, which was also used for several years. Today, I would say with confidence, in fact, there should be only three grades: the first, second and third, which sometimes includes broken pieces, and sometimes they are listed in the second grade. Well, of course, the first grade is highly appreciated, all the others are plummeting in price. Sharply, because the items that can be made from low-grade ivory are some kind of miniatures, sometimes even this cannot be done. Although, in fact, there is no waste from the material. They do small trinkets, and all that you want. Everything that did not turn into shavings and dust, everything goes into business. And sometimes even the remaining pieces are sold. They are sold as souvenirs after being polished to show some kind of structure and how beautiful they are.
In general, in Russia, the coloured ivory, the one that is saturated with those elements that are in the ground, such ivory has always been valued more. In China, this ivory was not valued for a long time. But today everything is changing. Today, the Chinese love the coloured ivory and buy this material more and more often.
A : Are there quota by Russia for total amounts of exports?
S: No, of course not.
A : Export as much as you can?
S: Of course. The market dictates. Therefore, everything is very simple. I just want to say why we are the only ones in the world. At some time, Alaska gave some tusks. When? During the gold mining period. And it was a material they found occasionally. But since today gold mining is prohibited, except when films are shot, when special licenses are made for a short season. Therefore, there is practically no tusks exported, for example, from Canada or from Alaska. Therefore, the market is all from Russia.
Behind the scenes, when we asked about the associations of importers and contacts that he could communicate, he named only one person : Daniel Chan.
Karl Ammann, March 7, 2019