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August 31, 2009

Wildlife Groups Seek Halt to Polar Bear Trade

Trade in Polar Bear Skin Rugs and Other Parts Threaten the Species

Humane Society International

WASHINGTON — Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Defenders of Wildlife have urged the United States to lead the way to end international commercial trade in polar bears, including hides, trophies, rugs and other polar bear parts. The United States has an opportunity to submit a proposal to stop the trade at next year's meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The meeting is set for March 13-25 in Doha, Qatar.

Polar bears in the wild live entirely within five countries: Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russian Federation and the United States. There are presently between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears and the number is decreasing.

Polar bears are completely dependent on sea ice, which they use for hunting prey, reproduction and movement. Ongoing atmospheric pollution is causing oceanic and atmospheric warming, leading to reductions in sea ice. Some scientists have concluded that polar bears will not survive past the end of this century due to the complete loss of summer sea ice.

In 2008, the United States listed the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This ended the importation to the United States of trophies of polar bears killed by American sport hunters. Although hunters from other countries can still import trophies, the United States was by far the largest importer and American trophy hunters had driven this large-scale commercial killing.

In addition to hunting trophies, polar bear parts — skin, fur, claws, skulls and even stuffed bears — enter international commercial trade.  More than 400 polar bear skins are traded annually; most come from Canada and most go to Japan.

The proposal would transfer the polar bear from CITES Appendix II, which allows regulated international commercial trade, to Appendix I, which prohibits all international commercial trade in the listed species. The purpose of CITES is to prevent over-exploitation of species through international trade.

The Appendix I designation would mean that countries agree to prohibit international trade for primarily commercial purposes and thus ensure that international trade will not contribute to the ongoing decrease in polar bear numbers. Appendix I listing will not affect native subsistence hunting or use of polar bears.

The United States must submit the proposal to the CITES Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, by Oct. 14, 2009. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments from the public through Sept. 11. Click here to comment.

"The United States is leading the way in saving this magnificent species from extinction by granting the polar bear protection under the Endangered Species Act. The federal government can continue its leadership for these rare creatures by urging global protection under CITES." Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D., Director of Wildlife for Humane Society International

"We cannot sit on the sidelines and accept the extinction of these iconic and magnificent creatures. The government should be doing everything it can to eliminate all threats to polar bears.  By uplisting the species at the next CITES conference, the U.S. could help prevent the deaths of hundreds of polar bears killed needlessly for the commercial market." Jeff Flocken, D.C. Office Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare

"Polar bears are facing so many threats right now — from global warming to poaching, trophy hunting and commercial trade — that scientists say they could vanish from the United States by the middle of the century. We can't solve all of these threats right away, but we can eliminate the threat of commercial trade. The U.S. can and should take the lead, by submitting a proposal to CITES to uplist the polar bear." Rodger Schlickeisen, President, Defenders of Wildlife

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Humane Society International and its affiliate organizations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations — backed by 11 million people. HSI is creating a better future for animals and people through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide — On the web at hsi.org.

As the world's leading animal welfare organization, IFAW works from its global headquarters in the United States and 16 country offices to improve the welfare of wild and domestic animals by reducing the commercial exploitation of animals, protecting wildlife habitats, and assisting animals in distress. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW works both on the ground and in the halls of government to safeguard wild and domestic animals and seeks to motivate the public to prevent cruelty to animals and to promote animal welfare and conservation policies that advance the well-being of both animals and people. To learn how you can help, please visit ifaw.org.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.  With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.  For more information, visit defenders.org. 

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