September 4, 2009
Wildlife Groups Ask Countries to Propose Halt to Polar Bear Trade
Trade in Polar Bear Skin Rugs and Other Parts Threaten the Species
WASHINGTON — Humane Society International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute today urged Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russian Federation and the United States to submit a proposal to next year's meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to stop the international trade in polar bears. The meeting is set for March 13-25 in Doha, Qatar.
Polar bears in the wild live entirely within the five countries. 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. Sea ice is rapidly disappearing as climate change causes increased warming. 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 addition to hunting trophies, polar bear parts — skin, fur, claws, skulls and even stuffed bears — enter international commercial trade. More than 500 polar bear skins are traded annually; most are exported from Canada to Japan.
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. Most polar bear trophies imported to the United States were from Canada.
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 countries must submit the proposal to the CITES Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, by Oct. 14. The United States is accepting comments from the public through Sept. 11. Click here to comment.
"We are calling on the countries where polar bears live to lead the way in saving this magnificent species from extinction by proposing increased protection under CITES. International trade in polar bear parts and products is exacerbating the devastating impact that climate change is already having on the polar bear. We should not be making rugs out of polar bears at a time when they are threatened with extinction." Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D., director of Wildlife for Humane Society International.
"The scientific community has told us that polar bears are in trouble. This is an opportunity for the countries where these iconic animals live to address one of the threats to their existence. The needless commercial trade of in polar bears and their body parts needs to come to an end." Jeff Flocken, D.C. office director, International Fund for Animal Welfare.
"As its habitat melts away it is imperative that these countries take the lead in reducing threats to the survival of this magnificent species. A CITES Appendix I listing is essential if the polar bear is to have any chance of surviving in the wild." D.J. Schubert, wildlife biologist, Animal Welfare Institute.
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