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February 23, 2009

New Administration Upholds Ban on Threatened Polar Bear Trophy Imports

The Humane Society of the United States

The Humane Society of the United States praised the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reject a bid by trophy hunters to import sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada. Last year, polar bears were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, halting the flow of trophy imports. FWS' decision, to be published in Tuesday's Federal Register, comes after The HSUS submitted lengthy and detailed legal comments to the agency in opposition to the applications, and closes the door on attempts by extremist trophy hunters to import the heads and hides of imperiled polar bears under a potentially disastrous misinterpretation of the law.

"We are grateful to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Fish and Wildlife Service for rejecting the Orwellian argument that we can only save rare and declining polar bear populations by shooting them," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president of The HSUS. "Federal law prohibits the sport hunting of polar bears within our own borders, and we shouldn't abet the commercial killing of polar bears in other countries for nothing more than a headhunting exercise."

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it was illegal from 1972 to 1994 to import sport-hunted polar bears into the United States. But in 1994, Safari Club International successfully lobbied for a loophole, allowing nearly 1,000 polar bears to be killed to adorn American trophy hunters' collections over the last 15 years. Fortunately, when the polar bear was listed as "threatened" under the ESA in 2008, importation of sport-hunted polar bear trophies was automatically prohibited under the MMPA.

Late last year, trophy hunters again tried to get permission to import polar bear trophy heads, arguing that hunting wild polar bears in Canada and importing the animals' heads and skins somehow "enhances the survival" of the species. Although the MMPA allows scientists and wildlife rehabilitators to import animals in order to protect species, FWS refused to allow importing of sport-hunted trophies under that exception.

Polar bears are being adversely affected by the impacts of global climate change. They face habitat loss due to melting sea ice, and additional pressure from needless trophy hunting could push these magnificent animals closer to extinction.

Several of the failed applicants are well-known trophy hunters with dozens of animals listed in Safari Club International's Record Book of Trophy Animals. One applicant has at least 195 animals listed, including rare, endangered and exotic species, including an African elephant, an African lion, a critically endangered Père David's deer, an endangered yak and a scimitar-horned oryx, listed as extinct in the wild. At least 40 of the animals were shot on captive hunting ranches.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

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