The last woolly mammoth died about 4,000 years ago. So why on earth might an international organization bestow protected status on the species? Because fossils are popping up so frequently in thawing Siberia that what the Guardian likens to a "gold rush" is developing among unregulated prospectors. To keep things under control, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, will consider the idea of labeling the extinct species as endangered this year or next, reports the Wall Street Journal. The reason why is pretty simple: Mammoth ivory can fetch up to about $500 per pound, and about 550,000 tons of the stuff are believed to in Siberia's Yakutia region.
The problem is that melting permafrost is regularly bringing mammoth fossils to the surface, and no rules are in place to regulate prospectors and tour operators looking to cash in. Authorities in Yakutia (part of Russia) might eventually create a single entity to extract and export tusks, but that is apparently a ways off. Meanwhile, proponents of the mammoth tusk trade say it will help protect elephants by replacing the need for elephant ivory. However, conservationists worry that a robust market could make it easy for elephant ivory to be sold as mammoth ivory. (Alaska had woolly mammoths, too, but they seemed to have died of thirst.)