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March 18, 2010

CITES Turns Its Back on Polar Bears

Humane Society International/Canada

MONTREAL – Humane Society International/Canada expressed deep disappointment at the failure of CITES parties to support the United States’ proposal to give the polar bear the strongest level of protection provided under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

“Eighty-two percent of Canadians tragically support a CITES ban on international trade in polar bear parts,” said Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada. “We are deeply disappointed that CITES parties have chosen to turn their backs on polar bears. A ban on the commercial trade in polar bear parts and products, such as bear skin rugs, would have helped to reduce pressures on populations already threatened by habitat loss through climate change. There are only 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears remaining—by the time CITES chooses to protect these iconic bears, it may well be too late to preserve the species.”

The United States proposal would have effectively banned the international trade in polar bear parts and products. It would have kept approximately 3,000 polar bears out of commercial trade during the next decade at a time when the species is increasingly threatened by loss of habitat due to global climate change. An Appendix II listing with a zero quota would also have achieved this aim.

Facts:

  • Climate change is destroying the polar bear’s sea ice habitat at such a rate that its population is predicted to decline by two thirds by 2050. Polar bears cannot survive without sea ice, from which they hunt seals, their main prey. Already, polar bears in the more southern Arctic areas have been showing signs of stress including weight loss, greater than normal cub mortality, lower birth rates and even cannibalism.
  • In addition to the major threat of climate change, polar bears are killed to supply the international commercial trade in their parts and products such as polar bear skin rugs. In Canada alone, between 500 and 600 polar bears are legally killed each year. The parts and products of an average of 300 of these polar bears are exported annually.
  • 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 exploited.
  • Globally, only one of the 19 populations was categorised as actually increasing in number; three were viewed as stable, while eight were determined to be declining and the status of the remaining seven were unknown or data-deficient.
  • 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, but it would ban commercial trade in skins and skin parts.

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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 11 million members and constituents globally — On the Web at hsicanada.ca.

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