Skip to main content

Enjoy Magazine

Tusk Master

03/19/2013 01:50PM ● By anonymous

story: Bruce Greenberg photo: Brent Van Auken


By day, Doug Carter is a mild-mannered financial advisor with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. But his alter ego is more like Indiana Jones.

Carter collects woolly mammoth tusks. When he talks about it, his tone is so relaxed you’d think he was quoting CD interest rates. But holding the tusk of a woolly mammoth, it’s easy to imagine these prehistoric elephants roaming the land as they did up to 300,000 years ago.

When asked how he got interested in collecting tusks, Carter smiles. “For me, collecting something is having something unique.” Enter Alan Stout, “the bone collector” from Rome, Georgia. Carter began to research buying a woolly mammoth tusk and found Stout on the Internet. Stout, a dinosaur hunter, was trying to track down saber tooth tiger skulls that were coming in from China. Stout asked Carter if he would help, and Carter made it his mission to track down this elusive dealer – a trail which eventually led to a small shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Stout was grateful for the connection and made Carter an extraordinary deal on a three-foot-long, 50,000-year-old, woolly mammoth tusk.

So began Carter’s collection. Once Carter passed through the looking glass and into this world of dealers of extinct fossils, he found himself in touch with a Russian business man, Igor Gribinov, who was dealing in exporting tusks from Siberia. Carter says, “Because of global warming, the ice shelf in Siberia is receding, exposing many more woolly mammoth tusks.” Carter explains that importing ivory tusks is illegal, but because these are fossilized, they’re allowed – but not cheap. “Prices for tusks start at $300 per pound and go up from there depending on quality,” Carter says. That makes a four-foot tusk worth about $10,000. Tusks have been found up to 16 feet long. “Dealers make most of their money on tusks by selling them off in sections that are used for knife handles, jewelry and carvings,” Carter says.

Though most tusks are found in Siberia or netted by fishermen in the North Sea, Carter’s largest tusk – five feet long - came from the Kuboss coal mine of Kazakhstan. Though it was more than twice as long when it was found, “they broke it excavating it from the mine,” Carter says.

Following leads and doing some wheeling and dealing, Carter ended up with seven woolly mammoth tusks. He decided to keep four and donate three to local schools. To date, two have been donated to University Preparatory School in Redding, where his daughter goes to school. Tad Raudman, U-Prep’s science teacher, says, “The kids think that the woolly mammoth tusks are the neatest fossils on hand. It’s a great way for the kids to see life has been on earth for a long time.”

Carter, 40, and his family, are no strangers to the community. He is a fifth-generation North State resident whose family moved to Trinity County shortly after the Civil War. His great-grandfather, Jesse Carter, was the Shasta County District Attorney from 1918 to 1927 and went on to become a state Supreme Court Justice. His grandparents, Harlan and Barbara Carter, homesteaded what is now known as the Carter House in Caldwell Park. And his parents, Janice and Ross Carter, started The Wilderness Recovery Center in Montgomery Creek in the early 1990s, a center for teen boys with substance abuse problems. The Wilderness Recovery Center is modeled after Outward Bound.

In what appears to be a long family tradition, Carter says, “I want to do something so unique that no one I know has done it before.” He seems to be pretty good at it. Carter earned college money by working in the Alaskan salmon industry. For a vacation, he hiked the back country of Iceland. He self-published a book titled, “Carter Cabin Party Chronicles.” And perhaps his greatest adventure of all is raising his 13-year-old daughter, Trinity.

When Carter begins telling a story in his soft-spoken, understated way, it’s easy to listen and get pulled in. Imagining a journey of tens of thousands of years, where woolly mammoths forage in a world very different than it is today. He’ll walk you through their incredible journey from their home in ancient Siberia to today’s classrooms in Redding, California, where – thanks to Carter – students can touch history and imagine a world long gone. The only thing missing as Doug Carter tells this story is Indiana Jones’ hat and whip.