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On International Polar Bear Day, Will the World Allow the Commercial Trade in Polar Bear Parts to Continue?

Andrew Wetzler

Posted February 27, 2013 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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polar bear (NOAA)

Today is International Polar Bear Day and around the world, zoos, educational institutions, and wildlife advocates are celebrating one of the most magnificent animals to still walk our earth.  A lot of the focus centers on climate change and rightly so: the rapidly warming Arctic is the single-greatest threat to polar bears.  But climate change isn’t the only threat facing polar bears.  They are also threatened by unsustainable commercial hunting in Canada, fueled by growing demand for polar bear parts.  So this is a particularly important Polar Bear Day, as it also kicks off a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which will decide whether or not that trade continues.

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that polar bears a threatened with extinction from climate change.  As the World Wildlife Fund points out:

Based on extremely conservative forecasts about the future extent of the sea ice, scientists have estimated that two thirds of the polar bear population could become extinct by 2050. If the sea ice continues to retreat at the speed witnessed during the last few years, the situation will become even more critical.

But the truth is, while there is much we can do to reduce the climate threat over the long term, over the short term we are already committed to an alarmingly high level of Arctic warming.  Even in the best-case scenarios, polar bears are in for a rough road in the coming decades.  That’s why scientists are starting to talk about extreme forms of intervention to help save polar bear populations such as artificial feeding and relocations.

While that may be necessary one day, right now there are more concrete things we can do to help polar bears: eliminate the other sources of stress and mortality on polar bear populations.  If we can reduce non-climate problems for bears, we will put them in the best position to make it through the unavoidable warming that humanity has caused, while we (hopefully) get our act together and stabilize the climate.

In fact, there are numerous stresses other than climate change that polar bear populations face, such as toxic contamination from globally circulating pollutants such as mercury and industrialization of the Arctic led by oil and gas companies.  But the single greatest threat to polar bears beyond climate change is an old-fashioned one: hunting.

Every year Canada places the parts of about 400 polar bears into international trade.  In recent years both the numbers of polar bear hides being offered at auction and the price those hide fetch have skyrocketed.

polar bear demand graphs.png

Exploding demand usually leads to increased exploitation, so no one should be surprised that several Canadian Provinces and Territories have ignored scientific advice and drastically increased hunting quotas. In 2011, against scientific recommendations, Nunavut tripled its hunting quota for the Western Hudson Bay population.  In Quebec, average harvest for the Southern Hudson Bay population jumped from four bears to seventy in a single year.

Poaching in Russia also continues to be a problem, one that is probably exacerbated by the fact that legal skins are floating around the international market, providing a convenient way to traffic in illegally harvested bears.

There is a solution to this, of course: ban the international commercial trade in polar bear parts.  The United States has proposed doing just that by introducing a CITES proposal to list the polar bear as an “Appendix I” species.  Numerous countries have said they will support the United States, including the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, and Poland.  The European Parliament also voted recently to support the United States’ proposal.  But Canada is fighting against any international controls on the polar bear trade, despite the fact that 85% of its own citizens support the United States’ position.

On Sunday the world’s wildlife management authorities will convene in Bangkok, Thailand, for the sixteenth meeting of the Convention.  A few days later, it will vote and, no matter what happens, affect the fate of thousands of polar bears in the coming years.  NRDC will be there, along with our allies, lobbying in support of the United States’ proposal and our team will be updating you along the way.

On this International Polar Bear Day you can do your part too.  Go here and take action.

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Comments

Elizabeth HerndlFeb 27 2013 09:35 AM

We must stop the destruction of these beautiful animals. Shame!

carla RiminiFeb 27 2013 10:29 AM

por favor ayudemos entre todos!!!!

Dr Margaret wilhelmFeb 27 2013 10:30 AM

Please Save the Polar Bears.

gladys tamesFeb 27 2013 10:43 AM

Please stop the Polar Bear Hunt ,Please let them live a nature life and die a nature life ...It keeps our ecosystem in balance,as the Artic is melting the Polar Bear may migrate south ,we would like to live by the 10 commandments (thou shall not kill )those aer words to live by...PLEASE STOP THE KILLING

kathryn sweasFeb 27 2013 10:51 AM

With the icebergs melting, they have it rough enough. We need to be looking at how to help them preserve a viable habitat. We do not need to harvest their bodyparts. Humans always have alternatives. Stop all hunting and harvesting pf polar bears. They are part of earth's beauty an vitality. STOP.

DanFeb 27 2013 12:31 PM

Stop the slaughter ! ! ! ...

Alléon LydieFeb 27 2013 12:47 PM

Foutez la paix aux animaux!

Amber MilamFeb 27 2013 01:21 PM

Please do not butcher these beautiful creatures.

R. CarrFeb 27 2013 01:27 PM

As so many others PLEASE stop the killing fo these beautiful Polar Bears. My bucketlist contains a box not yet checked as I want to see them up close before they are all gone. I have been an advocate for years. Please sign any petiton to save all animals. We are there voice.

Willie HollandFeb 27 2013 01:51 PM

Please stop the killing of these beautiful animals.

Helen GilletteFeb 27 2013 05:11 PM

They are such beautiful creatures, should beillegal to kill them.

Linda LamontagneFeb 27 2013 06:41 PM

Please stop killing these beautiful animals.

Nora De la PenaFeb 27 2013 07:24 PM

It is our responsibility to protect wildlife. We have done enough damage to this beautiful world, but still have time to reconsider all wrong doing and correct it before its too late. No amount of money can be worth more than a beautiful life.

annette holdsworthFeb 28 2013 05:13 PM

Please preserve and honour these beautiful creatures

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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