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December 16, 2009

Canadian Government Opposes Stronger Protection for Polar Bears

Humane Society International/Canada condemns an announcement by Canadian government officials that Canada will oppose a crucial proposal to ban international commercial trade in polar bears by transferring this threatened species from Appendix II to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The controversial announcement was made at a public consultation held Tuesday by Environment Canada.

"Listing polar bears on Appendix I would end international commercial trade in polar bear parts, removing a needless pressure on a species already struggling for its survival," said Rebecca Aldworth, director of Humane Society International/Canada. "Experts say we may witness the extinction of polar bears within our lifetime — it is reprehensible that the Canadian government is opposing key efforts to protect this threatened species."

Disturbingly, government officials announced at the start of the meeting that Environment Minister Jim Prentice had already decided Canada would oppose the proposal — prior to the public consultation.

Climate models predict a complete loss of summer sea ice in about 30 years, and some experts have concluded that polar bears will not survive this loss. Because polar bears are so threatened by climate change, control of international trade, which will have an increasingly greater negative effect on the species as populations decline, is necessary. CITES urgently needs to take appropriate action to address the situation.

Facts:

  • In 2007, skins and skin pieces representing hundreds of polar bears were traded internationally for commercial purposes.
  • An Appendix I listing would not prohibit hunting of polar bears by First Nations for subsistence or export of polar bear "trophies," contrary to claims made by some stakeholders (though it would impose a requirement to set internationally acceptable quotas), but it would ban commercial trade in skins and skin parts.
  • In Canada, the only range state currently exporting polar bear specimens for commercial purposes, more than half of the polar bear populations identified by the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature are declining and/or have been over-exploited.
  • Since entering into force in 1975, CITES has been the only international agreement that regulates international trade in wild species.
  • The treaty has been signed and ratified by 175 nations (parties).
  • Nearly 5,000 species of animals are protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade.

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Humane Society International/Canada is a leading force for animal protection, representing tens of thousands of members and constituents across the country. HSI/Canada has active programs in companion animals, wildlife and habitat protection, marine mammal preservation and farm animal welfare. HSI/Canada is proud to be a part of Humane Society International — one of the largest animal protection organizations in the world, with more than eleven million members and constituents globally — on the web at hsicanada.ca.
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