Photographer spends 3 weeks among the mammoth pirates
In July 2016, photographer Amos Chapple went to see the mammoth pirates.
Chapple has worked extensively in northern Siberia, near the Arctic Circle. In the winter of 2015-16, he was there again on assignment. Then a local contact gave him a tip.
THE CONTACT SAID SOMETHING NEW WAS HAPPENING IN THE REGION – A KIND OF ILLICIT GOLD RUSH.
With elephant ivory banned, ivory dealers have been turning to mammoth remains instead — and paying people to go out and find them.
The work is dangerous, environmentally destructive, illegal, and, for some prospectors, wildly profitable. A single tusk can rake in more cash than five years’ worth of wages.
The contact had already gone on one expedition and was preparing to go out again. Chapple managed to persuade the contact to take him along on the condition that he not reveal any names or locations. So in July 2016, Chapple found himself camped out in the Russian woods with a company of amateur tusk hunters.
For the first week, he wasn’t allowed to take a single picture. It was only after days of ingratiating himself with the men by cooking or doing chores around the camp that they let him bring out his camera.
His pictures first appeared on RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty. This is what he saw.
TUSK HUNTING HAS BECOME AN ALMOST INDUSTRIAL-SCALE ENDEAVOR.
Most areas don’t have mammoth tusks, but the extreme cold of Russia’s far north has preserved many remains. Everyday Russians would often spot tusks or other bones poking out of hillsides and riverbanks.
For a long time, this kind of visual prospecting was the usual way to hunt tusks. The yield was limited to what you could see. If you were very serious, you might have a metal probe to poke into the ground, but that was about it.
TODAY, HEAVY, NOISY WATER PUMPS CREATED FROM FIREFIGHTING EQUIPMENT REPLACE SHOVELS AND PROBES.
The work is done in the summer, when it’s not so cold. Most of the men have other seasonal jobs during the winter.
INSTEAD OF A SINGLE DIG, ENTIRE HILLSIDES NOW LIE EXPOSED..
The hoses blast away at the hard, frozen soil, slowly excavating entire hillsides.