www.nytimes.com 14th June 2011
The Russian border with China is flourishing with a rather macabre trade. The smuggling of animal parts into China, where they are used in various ‘traditional’ medicines, has rocketed in recent years, a fact demonstrated by a recent haul seized by Russian customs officers on Tuesday (14th June). In the bed of a seemingly empty Chinese-owned flat-bed truck, sniffer dogs revealed 26 elk lips, 1,041 bear paws, lynx fur, unspecified claw parts and 5 tusks from the extinct woolly mammoth. The total weight of the body parts was 1.4 (US) tons. The trade is worrying. According to Aleksei L. Vaisman from Traffic Europe-Russia, which monitors trade in wild animals, “China is a vacuum cleaner for Siberian wildlife.” Since Russian customs officers started using dogs, traffickers have risked larger shipments. The average price for a set of 4 bear paws would be around $50. The mammoth ivory tusks pose more a ethical dilemma. Conservationists tend to encourage the sale of this type of ivory to take the pressure off endangered species. With an estimated 150 million mammoths frozen in Siberia’s permafrost alone, it is not difficult to see why. However, Russia requires an export license in order to make sure those tusks with scientific value, prehistoric slaughter marks for example, are sent to researchers.