It may sound crazy that an animal who has been extinct for over 4,000 years is about to be listed as an endangered species. Despite the woolly mammoth being dead for thousands of years, this infamous animal could be deemed endangered once again. Here’s a round-up of everything you need to know about the woolly mammoth and how, thanks to climate change, mammoths may soon be extinct and endangered all at the same time.
How a dead woolly mammoth becomes endangered
Woolly mammoth remains have been popping up all over eastern Russia where the climate is slowly warming and poachers are taking full advantage. At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora, Israel proposed that the woolly mammoth be listed as endangered in 2019. While this may seem absurd because the last woolly mammoth died thousands of years ago, animal activists are actually proposing this to protect the world’s living elephants. While it is still very illegal to sell elephant ivory, mammoth ivory can be sold legally. If you’re asking how someone would even find mammoth ivory, the answer is, unfortunately, climate change.
According to the Wall Street Journal, mammoth ivory will fetch around $500 per pound. You can currently sell this legally all over the world. Mammoth ivory is being unearthed due to the rising temperatures across the globe. In areas where the woolly mammoth once roamed, they were often covered in snow as they died and became almost perfectly preserved by what is known as permafrost. Permafrost can blanket the earth for thousands of years and perfectly keep whatever is underneath it almost fully intact. As temperatures start to rise, due to global warming, this frost begins to melt and reveal what’s been hidden underneath for thousands of years.
In parts of the world such as eastern Russia and parts of Asia, we’re starting to find mammoth remains becoming unearthed as the frost begins to melt. Unfortunately, this has also led to a resurgence of elephant poaching. More and more poachers are trying to sell elephant ivory as mammoth ivory to get around the laws. Because it is almost impossible to distinguish the difference between mammoth ivory and elephant ivory at first glance, the two can be bought and sold without anyone knowing the difference. This is putting the world’s elephant population at great risk from poachers. Animal activists and scientists are hoping that by classifying mammoths as endangered, we’ll be able to make the sale of their ivory illegal as well. The goal is to stop poachers from being able to sell elephant ivory as mammoth, as both will be illegal to sell.
Who was the woolly mammoth?
Woolly mammoths were very closely related to modern-day Asian elephants. They look very similar to their cousins in almost every way. The biggest difference between a mammoth and a modern-day elephant is their thick coat of hair. Woolly mammoths get their signature look from their brown, thick coat of hair that used to keep them warm in the frigid temperatures of the Arctic plains. Woolly mammoths even had protective fur-lined ears. To help them forage and dig through the snow for food, mammoths had huge, curved tusks that could be used as tools. Mammoths used their tusks to dig out plants, shrubs, and grasses to eat. They also may have used them as protection and for fighting when necessary.
Woolly mammoths weighed around six tons and were about 13 feet tall. Some of their hair could actually grow to around three feet long. Although woolly mammoths are often thought about as having lived in frigid Arctic temperatures, both mammoths and the Asian elephant originally came from a much warmer home in Africa. Around six to seven million years ago these two moved from Africa to their colder home in Southern Europe. After another million years, they spread to Siberia and the northern parts of Canada. This is the time we now know of as, the Ice Age.
More about permafrost
Woolly mammoths became extinct over 10,000 years ago. Because of the permafrost in the Arctic areas in which they lived, their bodies have been almost perfectly preserved. As the ground warms, streams erode and riverbanks recede, revealing woolly mammoth corpses that are almost fully in-tact. Scientists have learned a lot about the woolly mammoth thanks to the preservation of permafrost.
Mammoths have been so well preserved that when they were found in Siberia in 2007, archeologists were actually able to determine the cause of death in some. One mammoth studied was found to have died from choking on mud almost 40,000 years ago. The mud found in the woolly mammoth’s trachea was so thick the mammoth would have been unable to dislodge it by choking. The first woolly mammoth found in Siberia was in 1806. Since then, thousands of fossils and preserved mammoth carcass have been found.
Future poaching and regulation
It’s the hope of animal activists and archeologists that the CITES proposal will be approved and put into practice by 2020. By listing the woolly mammoth as endangered, they are trying to prevent the selling and mislabeling of elephant ivory. This is the first proposal submitted on a species that is currently extinct. This classification will likely set a precedent for future extinct species.
According to Russian officials, the woolly mammoth ivory found preserved in Russia accounts for around 80% of their trade in the mostly uncontrolled $65 million markets. While it can be very difficult to tell the difference between the two animal’s ivory, it will be up to border patrol and security agencies to help protect our elephants. Until then, Russia has also proposed some new laws that will help regulate the trade of mammoth ivory and tusks that will hopefully curb future elephant poaching.