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20 starving mammoth tusk hunters in dramatic rescue from Arctic island

By The Siberian Times
27 October 2016

Marooned men went for up to 3 weeks without food on island in Laptev Sea in temperatures of minus 15C.

Six of the men airlifted in a critical condition suffering from exposure and extreme cold from Bolshoy Lyakhovsky, in the New Siberian Islands. Picture: Rescue Service of Yakutia

An alert that the men could not leave the island due to a broken boat was received by the authorities on 7 October but bad weather prevented their immediate rescue. 

Six of the men were in a critical condition suffering from exposure and extreme cold when they were airlifted from Bolshoy Lyakhovsky, in the New Siberian Islands. The group were in different locations, complicating the rescue in the north of Yakutia - or Sakha Repubic - the coldest region in Russia. 

Tusk hunting has become popular and lucrative but many of the best sites are in Russia's remotest and most challenging regions. 

Rescue operation

Rescue operation

'We grabbed the people, all of them were severely depleted.' Pictures: Rescue Service of Yakutia

During the search from the air, rescuer Alexander Nakhodkin saw human footprints, and following the trail in the  north-eastern part of the island, they spotted a tiny tent covered in snow at the mouth of the River Alyy Urekh. 

Inside were four men who had been without food for ten days. They were in a 'critically depleted condition and could not properly move by themselves'. One was completely unable to walk.

Polar weather station Kigilyakh

11 people were stranded at the polar weather station Kigilyakh. Picture: Rescue Service of Yakutia

The head of the rescue group Gennady Alexeev said: 'We were strictly limited in time, because of fuel economy. The helicopter  could wait for us no more than eight minutes. We landed at the tent, a few metres. 

'We grabbed the people, all of them were severely depleted. They saw us and started hugging, they were so happy. One even tried to kiss the rescuers.' 

Then the helicopter flew to the polar weather station Kigilyakh, where 11 more people were stranded. They were taken onboard in six minutes. 


In just three days, rescuers evacuated all 20 tusk hunters from three locations. Picture: The Siberian Times

But there was a new scare as the weather worsened, and pilot Valery Khachaturov ruled that because of an overload, the helicopter was too heavy to fly. He demanded that four should remain on the island and be rescued the following day. 

Alexeev said: 'No one wanted to leave the helicopter. They gripped the seats. No one wanted to stay on the island even for one more day voluntarily.' 

The rescuers themselves were ready to stay at the weather station, but four more people were waiting for help on Stolbovoy island and this option was excluded. The rescuers chose four people who were left behind. They were collected next day.

Rescue operation

An alert that the men could not leave the island due to a broken boat was received by the authorities on 7 October but bad weather prevented their immediate rescue. Picture: Rescue Service of Yakutia

Two of those on Stolbovoy island were critically weak and could not move. In just three days, rescuers evacuated all 20 tusk hunters. All of them were passed to the doctors. 

The republic's rescue service said: 'It was planned that the people would leave by boat, but it broke. The first messages about the people trapped on the islands came on 7 October. A few days later a helicopter from a research vessel tried to find and rescue them, but the searches did not bring any result.'

The helicopter used in the rescue was sent from regional capital Yakutsk, and the operation was staged from Tiksi.

Comments (3)

The truth is, this is another - linked - aspect of the illegal trade and slaughter of the dwindling numbers of African elephants poached for their tusks. Mammoth tusks are sought after for use as a cover in Asian ivory workshops so the illegal trade of African stolen tusks can be traded undercover, masquerading as mammoth tusks. The use of both or either is an outright disgrace, and the trade should be stopped IMMEDIATELY. The world is seeing the unwarranted exploitation of mammoth fossils as a cover for the greater crime of killing elephants in Africa for their ivory tusks - mammoth tusks are almost indistinguishable to the untrained eye from modern poached ivory. The fact these looters of pre-historic mammoth sites were rescued is not something to be celebrated - unless of course their unpleasant brush with death deters them in future from participating in this disgusting and disreputable wildlife trade. As long as it remains legal to pillage mammoth tusks and sell/use them for ivory carving, then the trade in illegal poached ivory will remain under the radar and unchallenged also. The trade in ivory - whether mammoths or modern elephant ivory - is a part of organised crime, and similar to blood diamonds, cocaine trafficking, people trafficking, and fine art theft. All of these things fund international organised crime, and MUST be stopped and prevented. So not a 'happy ending' story after all, if you understand what is REALLY going on here. Save the African elephant, before it is too late and they are driven to extinction. In less than 25 years at this rate of poaching and illegal killing they will all be gone. All of them. It is unsustainable. Please remember this. Our natural world is being looted.
02/11/2016 01:33
Wow, an happy end! Respect!
Charlotte Wermuth, Eygelshoven/Netherlands
28/10/2016 17:47
☺at last. Positieve News from Russian. Nice rescue.
Marcel Jongman, Apeldoorn, Netherlands
28/10/2016 16:48

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