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International Failure Puts Polar Bears Closer to Extinction

Zak Smith

Posted March 12, 2013

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Polar bear (photo by NOAA)

As I wrote last week, the international community rejected a US proposal to ban the global commercial trade in polar bear parts (skins, teeth, claws, skulls) at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand.  For the second time in three years, parties to the convention turned their backs on the plight of polar bears and the threat over hunting poses to the species – a species that, according to the best science, will likely lose more than two-thirds of its population by 2050 as a result of climate change.

It was this dual threat of climate change and over hunting that created one of the biggest challenges for the US proposal.  Parties at CITES are used to assessing and analyzing the impacts international trade has on species threatened by over hunting or "unsustainable harvest," but are not used to doing so when climate change is thrown into the mix.  This unfamiliarity created the perfect opening for Canada – the only country where polar bears live that allows the killing of the animals to supply the global market – and others opposed to the proposal, like Denmark and Norway, to cast doubt on the science and question whether banning trade would benefit the species.   

It’s shortsighted at best and duplicitous at most.  Shortsighted because over hunting to supply the global market for polar bears adds unnecessary stress to populations already suffering from climate change.  With mounting pressures from climate change, polar bear populations need to be strengthened to increase their chance to survive in the future.  Weakened populations will be less likely to withstand climate change impacts, making them more susceptible to sudden threats like early earlier sea-ice loss.  Only a ban on international commercial trade would ensure that global demand is not driving over hunting.  Duplicitous because many of those making money off of selling polar bear parts on the global market have pushed doubts to continue the status quo of selling skins for money as opposed to taking a precautionary approach for species protection.

The European Union is particularly responsible for the failure of the US proposal.  Once again the EU, which votes as a 27-state block, failed to support banning the global profit-driven trade in polar bear parts.  Unable to reach agreement internally, even though the majority of EU member states and the EU Parliament supported, the EU refused to support the US proposal and instead pushed its own proposal, which put no limitations on international trade.  Failing to provide any benefit to polar bears, the EU proposal also failed.

After the international community turned its back on over hunting for commercial trade, what’s next for polar bears?  Will polar bears continue to be hunted to supply the global market and will decisions on the number of polar bears to be killed each year be made against a backdrop of ever-higher demand and prices for their skins?  Maybe, in the short term.  But if we keep up the pressure and continue to explain the polar bear’s plight, we will be able to convince countries to end the global market.  We didn’t this time, but as long as polar bears have a chance of withstanding climate change, we’ll continue to work for their protection through CITES or other forums.

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Mona BerrierMar 12 2013 10:31 PM

It proves one thing, it's all about money. There really isn't any concern about the welfare of animals. Instead, it's about maximizing profits while manipulating animal populations to produce the greatest profit.

Thomas NassMar 13 2013 12:01 PM

If we don't stop abusing our Environment,
we're next! Or at best, not too far off!

Jeanne WalshMar 14 2013 01:24 PM

Are we ever going to get it and see the Big Picture of the damage that will be done to Land & especially Wildlife??!

Andrea ONealMar 14 2013 01:38 PM

ONLY when we group together and target these worthless, horribly corrupt people PERSONALLY---hitting them where it hurts the very most--- will change ever occur.

Kathi LyonsMar 14 2013 02:06 PM

Thank you for this information - although horrible. Where can we forward a blistering note?

r burgerMar 14 2013 02:09 PM

Shame on us humans!

Marilyn Byrne GrazianoMar 14 2013 02:32 PM

I agree with Mona Berrier of course it's all about money!! The thing is that all these Giants won't stop because they couldn't care less!! We're not going to leave much of a world for the future generations. Marilyn B.

ipp passMar 14 2013 02:39 PM

What can we do now? Is there a petiton or something we can get wroking on? Thank you

Terra WilliamsMar 14 2013 02:53 PM

I wonder, where do these "parts" end up? Would it not help to also track and address this disaster at the "end user" level? Is any country, organization or grassroots group doing this?

JohnMar 14 2013 02:54 PM

Because Canada welcomes the barbaric practice of clubbing baby seals to death on the ice and killing polar bears I have not gone skiing in Canada for many, many years.
They, to me, are a 3rd world country. And they call the Canadians human beings!!!!

JohnMar 14 2013 02:57 PM

Boycott the products and the country of Canada. It's all about the money!

Sergey GalushkoMar 14 2013 03:12 PM

That appears to be another example of international brainlessness. Any summer time may result in a catastrophic collapse of
the bear population due to the Arctic ice melting. Humans are the real threat to the planet Earth. Hopefully U.S. and Russia would prevail in their efforts to ban the trade in the nearest future.
Canada and EU - shame on you!
You have proved that your are closer to the cave man mentality and not to the space age level of the intellectual development.

Jan GarenMar 14 2013 03:15 PM

How the countries including Canada can dare to vote against protecting the polar bear is unbelievable. No country should be given the option - they don't own the polar bears. These conferences are a joke unless CITES has a casting vote to veto these appalling decisions. There is no democracy for animals.

Viviana RuizMar 14 2013 03:30 PM

I have learned that if any anyone or group wants to accomplish a goal in a country, state or nations. The answer is the power of the Media. If anyone is listening. Get the movie-stars to pay for big time commercias that air during prime time watch with reports on what going on with this world wide. Add a phone number and website on where to complain and you'll see action. In addition, get all the news papers magazines, radio stations to make it a "sansational news" and your get all those diplomatic, companies take action imediately. Media communication and media pressure is our voice, use it to your advantage.

Joe GamesonMar 14 2013 03:46 PM

Stop destroying the planet

Anon Y MouseMar 14 2013 03:49 PM

Given the successes of campaigns against the seal hunt this will hopefully boost the polar bears' food supply while completely wiping out our fisheries. Climate change appears to be the bigger threat to polar bears, and we should focus on that, not stripping native northerners of one of their few sources of income.

CHRIS SCHMIDTMar 14 2013 03:51 PM


Terry PotucekMar 14 2013 04:02 PM

I would suggest amp up the pressure on the Canadian government to protect the polar bear, eliminate trophy hunting of any kind. If Canada is where the largest Polar bear population lives, let all of conservationists and preservationists contact the prime minister, leading members of parliament and the Canadian dept of fisheries and wildlife and express our concerns and outrage. If someone could post contact details for these decision makers, maybe Canada's official support can finally be won to fully protect the monarch of the Great White North.

Adair LeonardMar 14 2013 04:06 PM

I'm very disappointed in Canada and any country that would take the life of a beautiful, God-created polar bear for their "parts". It's all about greed. Where is the compassion??

SANDRA CUTHBERTMar 14 2013 04:09 PM

I am sick over seeeing how many many animals are suffering for their skins ect. It sad how they have nobody helping them. If it wasn't for people taking action they loose all the way around. I am sick of seeing all the celebs now wearing fur again even Cher who I use to like now she is a mess to me. Her and Ferge, Beyonce, Lady GaGa Karma has visited her she canceled alot of her shows because she cannot stand or walk something with her hip. Well Thank you Karma keep up the good work!

Robert LazzariniMar 14 2013 04:50 PM

It is all about greed. Compassion has truly lost it's meaning to individuals, organizations, businesses, and definitely governments when it come to the welfare of our environment, and the wildlife that populates it.
As has been said before by others here:
What do we do next?
To whom, or where, do we write to?
Where's the campaign to stop this recklessness?

Anne KaufmannMar 14 2013 04:56 PM

I am Canadian and I cannot believe what is happening to the moral integrity of my country...not the individual citizens, but the government that looks only at the bottom line, that does not even care about the country they serve...I can only hope that once this present Federal government is defeated and it will be, hopefully sooner than later, that the new government will get back to the principles that Canadian citizens, our heritage, wildlife and the environment deserve..
And as stated,,,we need contact info, for ACTION .....

Rosetta LuncefordMar 14 2013 05:47 PM


angie harperMar 14 2013 05:51 PM

From hunting of whales, to bludgening of seal pups in front of their parents, what else needs to stop you visiting this appalling country???
We are not in the 18th century, we are in the 21st and this barbaric bloody harm must stop, they are not there to be 'harvested' for god's sake. It is THEIR environment we encroach into and there is no excuse....

gary sandleMar 14 2013 05:52 PM

what are u people freaken stupid ??? your killin off one of the great bears for his PARTS ?how would u like it if we did that to u ????? STOP STOP STOP U GREEDY BASTARDS.make your money legaly.some day u'll pay for this.

alexis kurjianMar 14 2013 05:57 PM

Polar bears need our protection and support. Please do the right thing.

Barbara D'EspositoMar 14 2013 06:04 PM

With their demise ours is sure to follow

Debra CurciMar 14 2013 06:13 PM

It seems that Candians are the most heartless people on the planet. They want to kill everything that doesn't walk on two legs. Shameful.

Prudence BrooksMar 14 2013 06:22 PM

I want to do something about this. And will somebody tell me where to start? I will then proceed to tell the right people. This is an anathema, a horror story, a vision of pure Hell on earth!!!

Jim StolzMar 14 2013 06:47 PM

Polar bears deserve better than to be killed of while they are going E XTINCT!!!!!

Donna DivonaMar 14 2013 06:49 PM

This is not about making more money, it is about the future of mankind. Those that support this destructive mindset do not believe they are participating and part of the link that is destroying the health and well being of their own future family generations. This is not the kind of legacy to leave your children's children. All living creatures are part of the survival of the earth and mankind. All living creatures are linked as one.

Suz DennistonMar 14 2013 06:50 PM


Norma NewmanMar 14 2013 07:23 PM

Our failure as humans to put a stop to this heinous cruelty and death of animals whose crime is being beautiful is heart-wrenching and beyond deplorable. How can we humabeings fail to act and bring about the quickest possible halt to this travesty? -- this inexcusable cruelty to helpless animals?

Sandra PonceMar 14 2013 07:25 PM

Canadian's should be appalled at the rejection of this ban and help the U.S. and all the other counties who think this is a barbarous policy. Why can't rejection by Canada be televised to our citizens and possibly encourage a "no travel ban" to Canada until they comply? Let's hit them in the pocketbook since that is where their priorities lie. We could also flood their websites, email or by phone and voice our outrage. I'm not sure what the answer is but we need to do something! I agree with the other person who is sick of seeing celebrities, and all who wear fur! Stop it before the Canadians skin and wear us!!l

Pascal MolineauxMar 14 2013 09:09 PM

Once again, short-sighted yet powerful interests would have us all put our heads in a sand box and pretend theings can continue as before... Human-induced global climate change DOES change EVERYTHING for the majestic polar bear (and so many other species). To pretend that ill-advised, blind, short-term interests can continue to define the future of polar bears is plain dumb and irresponsible.

Mona HookMar 14 2013 10:01 PM

There are Big Game Hunter conventions around the world, most are wealthy men who contribute a lot to political factions that vote to help them continue their 'game hunting' hobbies. Restrictions are being put on so many of the large and exotic game, that they use their money to fight these restrictions. This affects many other occupations, such as guides, organized travel trips, the gun sales industry, hunting clothing outfitters, the list goes on. And all of these factions fight to keep the killing of wildlife legal regardless of future consequences.

Kathleen SerranoMar 14 2013 11:39 PM

It's sickening the way that the world sticks its head on the sand and ignores the reality that there are species disappearing every year, every week, every day!

Debbie TateMar 15 2013 12:32 AM

These people voting on saving the Polar Bear just does not get the big picture! There is no other Earth to move to when they waste everything on our planet. They are SOS (stuck on stupid)! Money will not buy another Earth! When they deplete everything there will be no other place to move to! The circle of life is just that. They need to STOP killing everything. When it is gone, there is no replacement!!!

Les FaureMar 15 2013 02:02 AM

Those of us opposed to killing of wildlife, particularly large mammals whose numbers are rapidly declining, must make our voices heard by the governments that oppose protecting them. Canadians should contact the minister of environment and voice their disappointment on his position on the protection of polar bears. Shame!

John JoyceMar 15 2013 03:07 AM

The killing of wildlife is outrageous; whether or not a species is endangered.
In my own country of Australia, kangaroos are shot for pet food as well as human consumption. The babies and joeys are either bludgeoned to death or left to die, usually from starvation. Annually, it is the biggest slaughter of wildlife anywhere on the planet. If I was a Canadian, I would boycott Australia until this primitive and barbaric practice is banned. Just as I am going to boycott Canada, until it stops slaughtering its wildlife.

JohnMar 15 2013 05:34 AM

The Canadian government and sucks !

Jacqueline HerderMar 15 2013 06:46 AM

SHAME, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME on us all!!!!!

J WashMar 15 2013 02:38 PM

Greed and corruption resulted in the EU economic downfall. The same for Canada and the tarsands project. The short term profit mentality and marginalizing of the environment will be visited on the plant.

There is no free lunch in nature.

P. RossMar 15 2013 05:40 PM

You must be joking!!!!! this is a NO BRAINER!!!!! To allow ANY species to reach the brink of extinction is a sin against GOD! I don't know about the rest of the world, but I for one, do NOT want to tick off the Father!!
Most especially when for man's GREED!!!

Marilyn M.Mar 16 2013 02:12 AM

Just reading this makes me sick! How unfortunate that the people making these huge decisions over such special animals, in circumstances partly due to humans in the first place, have no compassion or heart. It is unbelievable that men in this modern age still have to prove their worth by hunting innocent animals or use them to increase their wealth. Sometimes I wish it was the other way around and that animals hunted humans for the same reasons, then maybe we would look at the situation differently. These magnificent animals are already facing difficult odds without some greedy human with a gun! Shame on all the voters that they did not do the right thing and stand up for their preservation

Anna DahlbergMar 16 2013 07:46 AM

There is no justification for this barbaric behaviour. We will be our own end. And the world will applaud. Please tell me if there is a petition to sign!

DianeMar 16 2013 10:16 AM

Humans are the real threat to the planet Earth. Do as much for them as possible!

Jan WhiteleyMar 16 2013 11:05 AM

This is disgraceful of the EU not to vote to protect the polar bear. What right do these people have to decide whether an animal can live or be killed for its skin and parts. The EU has always been corrupt and continues to be. Shame on the organisation.

F.OliveiraMar 16 2013 01:29 PM

Sad day.

Hate HuntersMar 16 2013 01:46 PM

Every single one of these people who don't care about this situation need to be eliminated from the planet. Let's have open season on hunters, the EU, and everyone else who supports the decimation of the polar bear population. The planet will be better off without them. They are scum. They all need to be gutted and thrown into a giant trash compactor.

Hate HuntersMar 16 2013 02:07 PM

You know what? After all is said and done, we're going to hunt & pollute ourselves out of existence, and when we're all gone, the earth will STILL be here, and eventually, it'll recover without all the idiots on it, and things will go on once again just like it has for billions of years---without humans. And it'll be the better for all the other life forms here, because it won't have a bunch of selfish, clueless individuals on it to screw it up.

Marilyn FlynnMar 16 2013 07:31 PM

What in the name of all that's holy were the Canadians thinking when they refused to protect polar bears? I was born in and grew up in Manitoba. Polar bears and buffalo are sacred to me, but not by any.means the pathetic creatures who voted against protection for these icons.

anonymousMar 17 2013 11:43 AM

What Is Our President Doing!!!?????!!!

SandraMar 17 2013 05:15 PM

Must we add another horror to our list of misdeeds?
We are killing the GOOD and keeping the BAD. Lord help us! We won't be around much longer and then those making the decisions will be asking, "What happened."

GaellaMar 17 2013 07:21 PM

It always comes down to economics and what people want and will pay for -- when there's no demand, suppliers find some other way to make their profits. Who wants polar bear parts and for what purpose? Can't we raise their consciousness? Can't we target the consumers more effectively so that it simply ceases to be an issue? Whatever the predators of Polar Bears are for whatever the purposes can be exposed and educated. Let's get the reporters & documentarians on that!

Terrie RidgwayMar 17 2013 07:29 PM

The savagery that exists just below the skin of we humans is terrible and every other living thing is in danger because of it. Those of us who make no effort to curb this ugliness seem to be running the planet and the rest of us keep trying to protect what we can from their greed and brutality. So it is with the polar bear.

Christine JonesMar 18 2013 12:33 PM

Very sad and disappointing news. However, where there's life there's hope, and we must just keep plugging away.

On a related note, I am disappointed to see commenters hurling hate at various countries and regions, including Australia, Canada, Europe, etc. It is pointless vowing to boycott a country because it has animal welfare problems. There is no corner of the globe which doesn't. Besides, every country also has people who are kind to animals, and they need to be supported. Better to keep positive and keep on doing what we can for animals. If you want to boycott, that's fine, but boycott specific events, such as bullfights or rodeos, not a whole country. Thanks everyone.

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