The hunt for Siberia’s white gold

The fact that sale of elephant tusks are under close scrutiny have made Ivory of the extinct woolly mammoth extremely popular in China. A new kind of “gold rush” is now happening in Russia where a fresh breed of miner “the tusker” is trying to create a fortune in some of the poorest villages of Siberia. This is the story of the hunt for Siberia’s white gold.

The hunt for Siberia’s white gold
Photographer: Amos Chapple
The hunt for Siberia’s white gold
Photographer: Amos Chapple

The lust for ivory

In China and Hong Kong, ivory is seen as a precious material used in ornaments and jewelry – and even in traditional Chinese medicine. Therefore, some Chinese people think that owning ivory makes them look more successful and that it will bring them good luck.

The hunt for Siberia’s white gold
Photographer: Amos Chapple

It is estimated that up to 30,000 African elephants die every year because they are hunted for ivory. Selling ivory has been banned worldwide since 1989.

The hunt for Siberia’s white gold
Photographer: Amos Chapple

The white gold of Siberia

The permafrost is a sheet of ice just beneath the surface and exists across the entire Yakutia region in Siberia. In warm soil, bones would rot away within a decade but locked into the permafrost, tusks and bones can survive tens of thousands.

The hunt for Siberia’s white gold
Photographer: Amos Chapple

The hunt for mammoth tusks began a few years ago when word spread of the fantastic sums paid for mammoth tusks. A 65-kilogram tusk can be sold for $34,000.

The hunt for Siberia’s white gold
Photographer: Amos Chapple

The hunt

With converted engines from Soviet-era Buran snowmobiles, water pump are made for excavating bones and animal remains. Some tuskers bore deep tunnels underground and others carve enormous caverns under the frozen ground or gouge out entire hillsides.

The hunt for Siberia’s white gold
Photographer: Amos Chapple

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The hunt for Siberia’s white gold
Photographer: Amos Chapple

Photographer Amos Chapple gained exclusive access to a site in Russia where illegal new methods are used for hunting the remains of Siberia’s lost giants. Check out his story and the beautiful pictures

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