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Federal Appeals Court Protects Polar Bears

Advocates applaud decision on hunting trophies

Trophy hunters may not import polar bears from Canada, under a federal appeals court decision upholding a 2008 import ban. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected challenges to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 trophy ban, protecting polar bears by listing the species as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Defenders of Wildlife and other groups intervened in the case to defend the ban on importing of sport-hunted polar bear trophies against legal attacks by Safari Club International, Conservation Force and individual polar bear trophy hunters.

Ralph Henry, senior attorney for wildlife litigation at The HSUS, said: “We are pleased the court has upheld the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to stop the trade in sport-hunted polar bear trophies. The decision confirms that imports of the heads and hides of these majestic creatures will do nothing to help pull the species back from the brink of extinction.”

Jeff Flocken, North American regional director, IFAW said, “The Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act are laws meant to help save disappearing species. Efforts to circumvent them need to be stopped and that is exactly what the court did today. The last thing polar bears need is another threat, especially one as needless as trophy hunting.”

Jason Rylander, senior attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, said, “With polar bears struggling to survive, it makes no sense to allow imports of sport-hunted bears to mount on a wall or spread in front of fireplaces. By putting an end to trade in polar bears, the court's decision promotes the conservation of this iconic species.”

Although the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits trophy hunting of polar bears in Alaska and bars the killing or import of all other marine mammals, trophy hunting groups persuaded Congress to push a loophole through the law in 1994, allowing American hunters to import polar bear trophies from Canada. Since then, more than 900 polar bear heads and hides have been imported into the United States by wealthy trophy hunters. The 2008 decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the ESA once again prohibited the import of trophy-hunted polar bears into the United States.

The HSUS, IFAW and Defenders of Wildlife were represented in the case by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C.


  • Trophy hunting of polar bears is banned in the United States, and only Alaskan natives are allowed to hunt small numbers of bears for subsistence.
  • Scientists estimate there are 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears in the Arctic — more than half are in Canada and most of these are in Nunavut. Throughout their range, polar bears face unprecedented threats from global climate change, environmental degradation and hunting.
  • A decline in polar bear numbers in recent years has been linked to the retreat of sea ice and its formation later in the year. Ice is also breaking up earlier and this trend is likely to continue.
  • Of the five "polar bear nations" (Canada, Denmark for Greenland, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States), only Canada allows polar bear trophy hunting.
  • A recent analysis by the United States Geological Survey predicted that two of the six polar bear populations from which Americans imported polar bear trophies would be gone by the year 2050, with the remaining four disappearing by the end of this century.
  • Trophy hunters target the largest and most fit bears, which are the animals critical to ensuring the survival of polar bear populations.
  • Bears have been forced ashore before they have time to build sufficient fat stores, resulting in thinner, stressed bears, fewer cubs and lower survival rates. Faced with habitat loss and population decline, polar bears should not also have to contend with high-priced trophy hunting.

Media contact:
The HSUS: Rebecca Basu: 240-753-4875, rbasu@humanesociety.org 

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